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Long-abandoned hospital could get new life

LUMBERTON — Assuming the legal language can be satisfactorily completed in time, the initial cleaning of the former Lumberton hospital could begin this spring.

That would be the first step in determining whether the long-shuttered building could be renovated and turned into a personal care facility for the elderly that would be leased from the city.

“That’s the first thing I need to do, get in there and clean it up because it’ll likely to be a hazard,” said Jack Delk, whose family runs a trio of assisted living/personal care facilities in Jones and Covington counties.

The cleanup would not guarantee that Delk would continue with the project.

“Once we do that, then we can get bids on things like windows and electricity,” Delk said. “Give us a chance to get some contractors in there, so we can see whether we’ll proceed.”

Delk initially had met with Lumberton officials in November to express his interest in the site.

During a recent meeting, Delk and the Lumberton Board of Aldermen continued to negotiate the details of an agreement that would allow him to begin cleaning the building.

In return, the city would agree that the property “shall not be leased, sold or transferred by Lumberton without the written consent of Delk or the termination of this agreement.”

Delk asked that the agreement be in effect for at least a year, with an option to extend.

“We are definitely willing to tackle (the cleanup),” Delk said.

Alderman Timothy Johnson said if the city entered such an agreement, Delk would be required to provide monthly updates to the board.

Lumberton has been without a full-time hospital for more than two decades. A clinic operated there later, but that was closed in the early 2000s.

Since then, the building has stood vacant, a victim of time and neglect, as well as thieves.

The electric system has been stripped for its copper wiring. Tiles have taken from the floor.

Over the years, the city has heard various pitches about the possibility of renovation or reinvention. In 2007, a Miami investor stepped forward and then after initial contact, faded away.

Delk asked the city to see if any grant money would be available to aid the cleanup, and also broached the subject of having appraisers examine the site to determine its worth should a long-term lease-purchase agreement be a possibility at some point.

A document that had been written after the November meeting would have to be reworked by lawyers representing Delk and the city before cleaning could begin.

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