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Panel narrows focus on RVHS building

A community panel created by Our Lady of Bellefonte Hospital to look at potential uses for the former River Valley Health Systems building has narrowed the focus to four categories.

OLBH purchased the building in September 2002 for $5.8 million, and has taken a lot of criticism from the public because nothing has been done with the building.

In June, former OLBH CEO Robert Maher announced the creation of a panel made up of community members from throughout the Tri-State to determine how the building, located at 2228 S. Ninth St., could best be utilized to benefit the city, the hospital and the entire region.

At the first meeting last month, each panel member came up with a potential use for the building that has been vacant for more than two years. These were discussed and sorted Thursday to isolate four main focus areas for future meetings -- housing, business, education and health/wellness, said Michael Stautberg, vice president of external affairs for OLBH.

Several ideas were generated for each category and the possibility of some mix usage will also be examined in the next four meetings, he said.

"We decided that there were viable ideas under each category. They will be narrowed at upcoming meetings," Stautberg said. "After all these discussions, we will have three, four or five viable ideas that can be further explored by the committee, OLBH and other groups wishing to examine these options."

The panel also reviewed blueprints and the condition of the building as well as got answers to some previous questions such as the size --128,000 square feet -- the condition of the technology and communications system and more, Stautberg said.

One area of discussion was the phone system. It is believed to be in working order, but is no longer supported by the installer, so it will need to be replaced in the future as it continues to break down, he said.

At the next meeting, hospital representatives will also present the results of a study conducted by an independent firm that appraised the value of the building and also looked at its best uses, he said.

As far as Stautberg is concerned, the meeting was a success and another stepping stone in the right direction.

"There is a lot of positive feelings," he said. "This is a real supportive group that is looking at alternative uses and thinking outside of the box."

Committee chairman and Ironton business owner Dan Bentley remains confident the panel can find a use for the building that will benefit everyone involved.

"I am still optimistic about Ironton and everything else," he said Wednesday in discussing the agenda. "If you do not think that way nothing will ever happen."

The next meeting will be held in October. The panel met for the first time on August 2.

After a two-hour meeting at Ohio University Southern, panel members toured the entire facility, giving some their first peek inside.

The panel meetings are not open to the public or media because they are considered committee meetings of OLBH, which are not normally public. The reason for the closed meetings is not to be secretive but to allow for a free flow of ideas, Stautberg said.

Committee members were asked not to talk to the media but several panel members did say that the building did not appear to be in as bad shape as they had expected. Stautberg has said he will try to arrange for the media to be allowed on a tour inside the building in upcoming months.

The Ironton Tribune obtained a copy of the minutes from the first meeting.

According to the minutes, Maher outlined some problems with the facility that helped them make the decision not to locate an urgent care facility there. Problems include issues with the electrical system, flooding, heating and air problems, roof damage and poor location in relation to the major highways.

Bob Owen, of Owens Communication and facilitator for the meetings, then outlined exactly what OLBH purchased and said that the hospital will not consider the facility for a competitive acute-care facility.

Owen said that issues including placing blame, past problems and

discussions on what should have been done were off limits.

In total, 52 people were invited to serve on the committee made up

solely of volunteers. About 90 percent of those people agreed to serve.

Panel members include Bentley and his wife, Cheri, Ironton Mayor Bob Cleary, Philip Biggs, Ironton's city engineer; Matt Ward, Ironton's economic development director; Carol Allen, of Ohio University Southern; Joe Unger, co-owner of Unger's Shoes; Larry Anderson, assistant fire chief in Perry

Township; Rod DePriest, President of National City Bank; Bob Walters, plant

manager for the Liebert Corporation; Ray "Doc" Payne, a former Ironton City Councilman; Father Thomas Nau, pastor at St. Lawrence O'Toole Catholic

Church; Jim Crawford of Ohio University Southern's Center for Development;

Donnie Townsend, owner of HossCat Clothing; auto dealer Bob Clyse; Bob

Arrell, retired general manager for Armco Steel; Brian Fletcher, of Ohio

River Bank; local business owner Michael Haas; financial planner Bob

Davidson, Dr. Jack Davis, Rick Massey of AK Steel; Judge Frank McCown, Mike Hurley, local insurance agent.

Others include Mark Compston, of AG Edwards Financial, Dr.

Kenneth Fairchild; Paul Mollett, executive director of the Lawrence County

Board of MR/DD; Barry Elswick, plant manager for Sunoco Chemical; attorney Bob Anderson; Leslie Milleson, of the Ironton Vision Center; Lawrence County Commissioner Jason Stephens; OUS science professor Bob Culp; David R. Peoples, pastor of Mt. Olive Baptist Church; Ironton surgeon Dr. Pacifico D. Dorado; Tom Allyn, owner of Allyn's Jewelers; Annette Scott, nurse in the Ironton School District; attorney John Wolfe; Georgia Dillon, administrator for the Lawrence County Health Department; Dr. Steve Merkel, Kenneth Gestel, plant manager for Duke Energy; Keith Molihan, executive director of the Ironton-Lawrence County Community Action Organization; Daniel Mooney, of Oak Hill Banks, Dr. Bill Dingus, executive director of the

LEDC and the Chamber of Commerce; Dr. Dan Evans, dean of OUS; Dean Nance; superintendent of the Ironton School District; Charlie Kouns, recently retired health commissioner and registered sanitarian for the city of Ironton and Rich Mountain, of Scherer Mountain Insurance.

Chuck Neumann, senior vice president/interim CEO of OLBH, David Hall,

plant operations manager for OLBH, Sister Rose Marie Jasinski, for Bon

Secours Health System; and Rick Loperfido represent the hospital.