Acres of woods overlooking the Patapsco River in southern Carroll County selling at fair-market value should readily attract a buyer. But this riverside property comes with 18 ramshackle buildings that would have to be razed or restored and some costly environmental issues.
The state Board of Public Works approved the sale of Henryton Hospital Center on Dec. 15, putting the 46-acre property that adjoins Patapsco Valley State Park on the market for the third time since 1992. Officials are assessing Henryton to determine its value, and they expect to issue requests for proposals next month.
"We will ask for proposals and see what happens," said Anne Hubbard, spokeswoman for the state Department of General Services. "We have had questions from private developers."
Henryton will remain on the market for three years and, absent a buyer, would revert to its original owner, the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
"Three times we have surplused this property," said Charles E. Gates Jr., spokesman for the Maryland Department of Planning. "It is sad that we can't find some buyer."
A private school has expressed an interest in acquiring the property and using the buildings, state officials said.
Abandoned for more than two decades, the hospital would present serious problems to anyone restoring the buildings. Among those, at least $2 million is needed for asbestos and lead paint removal, officials said.
"We have not yet received a full report on the environmental issues concerning this facility," Hubbard said.
One thing for certain is that Carroll County will not be among those bidding for the site.
County officials have toured the site several times in the past. The have discussed options such as senior housing, a boot camp for the sheriff's office, a school campus and a homeless shelter - anything but more new homes. They briefly considered the hospital for a residential treatment center for drug addicts but abandoned the idea in the face of the high cost of restorations.
"In my opinion, none of those buildings are worth salvaging," said Ralph E. Green, director of the county's Department of General Services. "We evaluated them a few years ago and found them filled with asbestos and lead paint."
Commissioner Dean L. Minnich said the county has had a few inquiries about the hospital, which straddles the border between Carroll and Howard counties, but no firm offers have emerged.
"We are not interested in keeping it," Minnich said. "The cost of rehabbing makes it an environmental nightmare."
Commissioner Perry L. Jones Jr. said, "Unless the state is putting up money for asbestos and lead paint removal, and without a lot of private investment, it is not going to happen."
Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge also has inspected the buildings.
"Basically, it is a shame that these buildings have sat empty for so long," Gouge said. "We have looked at them a couple of times, but renovations would probably cost twice as much as building new."
Henryton offers 225,000 square feet of space in 18 buildings that have been vacant and poorly maintained for more than 20 years. Built in the 1920s as a hospital for African-American tuberculosis patients, the buildings offered patients the prevailing treatment - sunshine and fresh air.
The design includes many windows, balconies and porches with views of lush forests. In 1962, Henryton became a center for the developmentally disabled. When that patient census dropped by the early 1980s, the state closed the facility, shut off heat, water and electricity and provided minimal security and maintenance.
Security efforts, which cost the state about $100,000 annually, ended three years ago and vandals "are gradually destroying what remains of the buildings," according to the state's property report.
The effects of neglect are evident. A cursory glance shows flaking paint, leaking roofs and buckled floors. Holes in the walls enable birds and bats to fly inside and snakes and vermin to nest there. The main hospital building, a rambling white stucco edifice at the center of the campus that is a particular eyesore, obstructs views of the river.
Still, the solid construction, much of it steel and concrete, could help in a restoration effort. The solid wood panel doors and lead-framed windows, many with beveled glass, are rarely part of construction today.
In September 1997, the state entered into a lease agreement with a nonprofit organization that planned to renovate Henryton into a rehabilitation and jobs training center.
Neighbors in Carroll and Howard counties vigorously opposed the plan. Carroll officials threatened to block any attempt to rezone the land for the center, and the state ultimately canceled the lease.
State officials are hoping the third attempt to sell Henryton works.
"Markets change," said Gates.