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DeWine raises hospital, police funding

WARREN — An announcement Tuesday that the city will receive $218,000 for the police department on top of the $3.4 million for the remediation of the former St. Joseph Riverside Hospital was a pleasant surprise for city officials.

Gov. Mike DeWine said an uptick in violent crime is taking place in cities across the state. The state Legislature, working with governor’s office, has set aside funds to help local police departments.

“We see across the state and county an increase of violent crime,” DeWine said. “Violent crime can impact the quality of life of people.”

The money is to be used to advance technology in the department.

Safety Service Director Eddie Colbert said the department applied for the funds several months ago.

“We know that policing is based on person-to-person interactions, but it is getting increasingly technical,” Colbert said. “The state understands that.”

Colbert said city officials discussed the police department’s needs during talks on how to use American Rescue Plan funds.

“This money may be used instead of using ARP funds to fill those needs,” Colbert said.

Mayor Doug Franklin was surprised by the governor’s announcement.

“We talked about our needs during a meeting at the governor’s mansion earlier,” Franklin said. “Shortly afterward, the governor sent down a delegation of law enforcement from the state department of safety to see what they could do to help.”

HOSPITAL SITE

Former Warren 1st Ward Councilman Larry Larson said the $3.4 million the Trumbull County Land Reutilization Corporation, or land bank, is receiving from the state for the environmental remediation of the former St. Joseph Riverside Hospital on Tod Avenue is great for the neighborhood and the city.

The land bank in 2021 was awarded a $2.5 million grant from Ohio Environmental Protection Agency. The hospital is in the possession of the land bank. Officials estimates the cost of the hospital demolition would be around $5 million.

“This was a grand old lady that died and needs a proper burial,” Larson said. “That’s what is going to be done. Everyone in the neighborhood will be happy, because the complex is unsafe. It is scary.”

Larson said members of the Northwest Neighborhood Association during patrols of the area spot young people on top of the building tagging walls with graffiti.

Former 2nd Ward Councilman Al Novak expressed relief that the building will be taken down. He said too many contaminants and too many ways to get inside the building make the structure insecure.

Council President John Brown emphasized that the former hospital has been a significant part of the city’s growth and evolution.

“My father-in-law passed away in this hospital,” he said. “My wife was born here, and I came over here many times when I was injured at Thomas Steel.”

“However, its time has passed,” Brown said. “There are a lot of (improvements) occurring on the river, with the dam coming down and the kayak dock being placed.”

Councilman Todd Johnson, D-1st Ward, is excited to see the building go, because many residents have been working for years to foresee what can happen with those 15 acres.

“I would like to get input from residents about what they want to see happen with the land,” Johnson said. “Perhaps entertain developers and ideas, perhaps mixed-use services.”

OTHER VIEWS

State Rep. Michael O’Brien, D-Warren, formerly a Warren mayor and a Trumbull County commissioner, said trying to deal with the facility and its best use has been as a thorn for multiple generations of mayors.

“It was a process that everyone had to go through,” he said. “It took a lot of patience for the entire neighborhood.”

Patricia Pumphrey, a former nurse at the hospital, expressed both a sense of sadness and happiness to see efforts to demolish the site moving forward.

“This was at one time one of the most wonderful buildings in the city,” she said. “There were nurses, doctors and others who proudly worked in this building. We were so proud to work in our hospital.”

Looking at its horrendous condition, Pumphrey is hoping it will be taken down.

“The deplorables that had been in here, the drug use and the breaking up of the building makes it very hard for those people who once loved this and what it represented,” she said. “It is hard to see this like this.”

But Randy William Pence, a Warren resident, said “I would like to see the building revived, not destroyed. Why don’t we rebuild our community, instead of just leveling it?”

A HAZARD

Franklin described the hospital as a public health hazard over the 26 years it has been vacant.

“This complex has had an effect to significantly deteriorate property values in this neighborhood, as well as the city as a whole,” Franklin said. “The challenge of this city has been the cost of this type of project. The cost is equivalent to 15 percent of our total general fund budget.”

DeWine said he first became aware of the need to demolish abandoned homes and properties in cities and villages while he was Ohio’s attorney general. Early funds were used to tear down thousands of homes across the state.

Since that time, DeWine said communities needed funds to get rid of larger brownfield sites, such as the former St. Joseph Riverside Hospital.

“The legislature set aside $350 million for this type of project,” DeWine said. “Another $150 million was set aside for smaller projects.”

Within the first round of funds, $60 million, is the $3.4 million being used for the hospital project.

Michael Keys, community development director, said at Wednesday’s Warren council meeting the contract for the demolition will be awarded in June, and work is expected to be complete by December.

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