Proposed project could revitalize former Baptist hospital

Published 11:19 am Sunday, November 26, 2023

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The former Baptist Hospital building on Riverview Avenue opened its doors in February 1922 with a capacity for 84 patients. By 1971 the last patients bid farewell as the new medical center took over. Today the building stands vacant, but a new chapter for the property could be on the horizon.

Gabriela Apartments, a private developer out of San Francisco, has stepped forward to repurpose the old hospital by transforming it into affordable apartments. The developer is actively seeking an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Brownfield grant to facilitate the clean-up of the site.

Heading the crucial cleanup project is Greg Stover, a senior geologist and project manager from PPM Environmental Consultants. Stover, who is no stranger to Selma, is also involved in a project at Craig Industrial Park. 

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“We’ve basically been asked by the owner to submit a grant to the EPA for a Brownfield,” Stover said.  “The Alabama Department of Environmental Management did an investigation to check the site and the clean-up would mainly be for asbestos and a chemical called PAH, which is common to diesel fuel, oil or burning.”

According to the EPA , a brownfield is defined as a property hindered by hazardous substances, contaminants or pollutants. The brownfield assessment and cleanup program aims to revitalize such sites, turning environmental liabilities into economic assets. 

Stover shares that the urgency of the project cannot be overstated. The facility, now a fragile relic, has suffered from years of neglect. Holes in the roof permit water to seep into the structure, complicating the removal of hazardous materials such as asbestos and driving up mitigation costs. 

As discussions unfold, the looming question of whether to preserve the existing structure or opt for a new build hang in the air. 

Stover revealed that the possibility of demolishing parts or the entire building is on the table, a decision that hinges on the building’s stability and the imperative to eliminate any lingering hazardous materials.

“There is the discussion of whether this will require demolition or not,” Stover said. “We’re hoping not, especially because of the historic nature of the building, but the roof is compromised which lets in moisture and with the beginning of the work being a good year out, it could be an issue.”

Gabriela’s leadership took a proactive approach by organizing a public information session at the Selma Dallas County Library on Nov. 3. The gathering served the dual purpose of updating the community on the progress of the project while also gathering input from the public. 

Many residents say they understand the need for available housing, especially after many homes were destroyed by the Jan. tornadoes but were apprehensive about the future apartments being managed by a company located across the country.