Several months ago, I wrote an article detailing the needless and extremely costly taxpayer-funded demolitions that have been happening at the Montana State Hospital at Warm Springs. Since then, a small group of determined people, and myself, have made some progress in our efforts to stop some of the last remaining structures at the facility from being destroyed. We have also learned of largely unknown real estate opportunities at Warm Springs that have become available to the public.
The buildings that are in the most jeopardy are all very large, at least by Montana's standards. They include the former Receiving Hospital (77,000 square feet), two old barns, and a third agricultural building that appears to be about a century old, with a very large 1950's addition to its north side. Contrary to most official state reports, all of the endangered buildings are in fair condition, with the exception of one of the barns.
The most disturbing thing about the destruction that is happening is the fact that it is happening simultaneously at state hospitals all across the country -- some of which were undoubtedly the finest and largest examples of Victorian architecture in America. A few of them were built well before the Civil War.
Even when it was completely intact, the Warm Springs facility paled in comparison, in size and grandeur, to state hospitals in more populated areas. These would have included, but were certainly not limited to Greystone State Hospital in New Jersey, Norwich State Hospital in Connecticut, Topeka State Hospital in Kansas, Bryce State Hospital in Alabama, Oregon State Hospital, and the Danvers and Worcester State Hospitals in Massachusetts. All of these highly valuable and very historic facilities, along with many others, have been either completely, or almost completely, wiped off the face of the earth in recent months, and at the expense of hundreds of millions of state and federal taxpayer dollars to date. If the inherent value of these demolished assets were included in this already incomprehensible cost to the taxpayers, it would, of course, be multiplied by many times to a far greater amount.
In every case, the state governments would release a report stating that the facilities were dilapidated beyond feasible repair. But this was always far from the truth. Many of the structures had been vacated less than 10 years ago, and had only suffered minor cosmetic damage. Some were even in great condition. Even those that had been neglected for longer than a decade had held up exceptionally well, which in many cases, could be attributed to the extremely high quality of their exterior finishes.
But all is not yet lost, as there are still a few state hospital complexes that stand largely intact. Though most, if not all, of these "lucky few" are in various stages of jeopardy. The rest of them are like the Warm Springs facility, where most of the buildings are already gone, but those that remain are highly valuable. The former Receiving Hospital at Warm Springs is certainly a multi-million dollar building by itself. Even the Montana Long-Range Building Program had to admit this fact in its last appraisal of the structure, which it now hopes to reduce to rubble.
The demolitions are scheduled to begin this spring, but after many phone calls and visits to state officials by myself and a fellow named Kurt Wyant, we discovered that the state will consider selling or leasing the structures, and the land around them, to anyone who submits a proposal to Mike Manion, Deputy Director of the Montana Department of Administration, before April 9 at email@example.com or by mail at PO Box 200101, Helena, MT 59620-0101. He can also be reached by phone at 406-444-3310.
Any interested persons or organizations will have to act fast, but right now they have the opportunity to purchase or lease one or more of these highly valuable buildings for fractions of a penny on the dollar.
Cameron J. Moylan, Butte, describes himself as an historian and economist
For interior and exterior photos of the buildings, or additional information, Moylan invites people to call him 406-599-3199.