Editor's note: This guest view was written in early December 2015.
With this article, I'd like to shed some light onto a largely unknown tragedy that is being carried out with your tax dollars at the Montana State Hospital at Warm Springs.
Over the past 10 years (but mostly since 2008), the Montana Long Range Building Program has spent millions of dollars to demolish at least 26 substantial buildings on the grounds of the Warm Springs facility. The smallest of these buildings were fairly modern faculty duplexes. The rest were very large apartment-like structures. Most of which were brick buildings that had been constructed before 1920, and were built with high levels of quality and craftsmanship.
Some of them were even built in the late 1800s back when Warm Springs was a luxury resort. These pre-1920's buildings were so well-constructed, and so good looking, that they were surely some of the finest buildings in the state. It was obvious that they had been built to be permanent, with their hard-fired brick exteriors, standing seam metal roofs, and concrete foundations, so solid, that they never cracked or crumbled, as so many century-old foundations have. The only noticeable sign that the buildings had been neglected for years was some peeling paint around the windows and doors. Inside there were terrazzo floors, fine woodwork, and plaster-work that would put the interiors of most modern buildings to shame.
The place was truly a historical gem. But it has not been treated that way. And to be honest, I am writing this article about decade later than I should have, because most of the buildings fitting the above description have been pointlessly and very expensively demolished.
But while most of the hospital buildings are gone, there are still a handful of structures at Warm Springs, which have been slated for demolition, that are very much worth saving. The largest of these is the Receiving Hospital. It is a 77,000-square-foot single story building that was constructed in 1954, and is the only hospital building that can be easily seen from the interstate. For the most part, it looks like it could be reopened tomorrow, with the exception of a few rooms that have been damaged from leaks in the neglected roof. This building is relatively modern in design, and could be easily brought up to code and used again.
The cost of demolishing it would certainly be far greater than the cost of repairing it. The irony of its predicament is that, about a hundred yards away, the new Receiving Hospital has been badly overcrowded ever since it was built in the early 1990s. Two, three, and sometimes four patients are being forced to live in rooms that were only designed for one, while this adjacent building, which could better accommodate them, and is certainly better looking, is slated for demolition.
Also in jeopardy is a maximum security building that looks like it was built in the 1970s, and appears to be in perfectly usable condition. And at the northwest corner of what is left of the complex are some large agricultural buildings that are also at great risk. Among these are two huge old barns, which were certainly built before 1920. Unlike most of the buildings that once stood at Warm Springs, these barns show many signs of neglect. But even they would be worth repairing, both from a financial and a historical perspective.
All of these structures are highly valuable, especially the old Receiving Hospital, which alone would cost millions of dollars to replace. If the state government refuses to use them for something, they should be put up for sale, or should at least be left alone until a use for them is found. This government mentality of indiscriminate demolition by default is asinine. It robs billions of taxpayer dollars nationwide to destroy many more billions of dollars’ worth of valuable assets that were largely built by the taxpayers of previous generations. But it is a philosophy that is disgracefully widespread in our state and federal government.
The final phase of Warm Springs demolitions is scheduled to start this coming spring, but it is not too late to save the millions of dollars of infrastructure that is in peril. For anyone who would like to help put an end to the needless destruction, here are the phone numbers of some of our state and federal representatives and departments. Give them a call, or sign the petition that is posted in the entrance of the Butte Public Library. Let them know that you didn't vote for this.
State Rep. Gordon Pierson - (406) 444-4800
Governor Steve Bullock - (406) 444-3111
Congressman Ryan Zinke - (202) 225-3211
U.S. Senator Steve Daines - (202) 224-2651
Montana Legislative Fiscal Division - (406) 444-2986
And here is my number, in case you have any comments or questions about the matter:
-- Cameron J. Moylan, Butte, (406) 599-3199. Moylan describes himself as an historian and economist.