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Glenn Dale Hospital in Prince George's County is offered for sale

By Ovetta Wiggins
Thursday, September 9, 2010; B01

Glenn Dale Hospital, a once-stately facility of Georgian and Colonial Revival-style brick buildings that served as a tuberculosis sanatorium and later a hospital for the District's chronically ill, is up for sale.

The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, which owns the 210-acre site about 15 miles from the District line in rural Prince George's County, wants to sell to the highest bidder the 60 acres that make up the 76-year-old hospital campus.

Final bids must be received by Tuesday, and bidders must meet requirements for the complex's reuse.

Chuck Montrie, the park planning supervisor for the county Department of Parks and Recreation, which oversees the property, said the commission made a national appeal for bids in June.

But there has been little interest in the crumbling, vacant property, which consists of about 22 buildings, including a five-story adult hospital, a three-story children's hospital and a number of smaller buildings, he said.

"I have not gotten one call, and given the recession, I'm not sure if I will get too many, if any, serious bids," Montrie said. "My fear is that it won't get any bids."

Residents of the Glenn Dale neighborhood are asking why the commission placed the hospital on the market, given the economic downturn that has stalled developments and hindered sales of residential and commercial properties.

"It seems a strange time to be seeking a bid," said Mary Vondrak, a Glenn Dale resident.

Some residents said the Sept. 14 deadline -- primary Election Day -- gave them pause. They said they worry that the property is being sold in the waning days of an administration that has been criticized over deals involving county-owned land. According to a Washington Post investigation in 2008, millions of dollars in development deals went to friends, business partners and campaign contributors of County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D), many of whom had little development experience and got land at cut-rate prices.

Adrian Gardner, general counsel for the commission, said the timing "was unrelated to any political issue," but rather the June 8 issuing of the solicitation came after legal talks with the District, the former owner of the property, regarding covenants in the deed. If the commission receives more than it cost to buy and maintain the hospital, the District would share in the proceeds of the sale.

"The public deserves to have this property in a productive capacity of some sort, and right now all this property is doing is consuming taxpayer resources to maintain it," Gardner said.

If the grounds are sold, the hospital campus is supposed to be used as a continuing care retirement community, according to a 1994 state law. The rest of the land is meant to be open space dedicated to parks and recreation.

"We're concerned that the spirit of the law and the desires of the community will not be enforced," said Lillian Becker, a Glenn Dale resident, who said she did not know until recently about the recent push to sell the property. Becker and other neighbors said a continuing care retirement facility would preserve the quiet character of the community that they treasure.

Del. James W. Hubbard (D-Prince George's), the sponsor of the legislation, said he was concerned that residents were unaware of the county's plans. But the "saving grace" is that the solicitation meets all of the requirements of the legislation, he said.

The solicitation requires that the top bidder have a license or registration to operate a continuing care retirement community on the 60 acres.

"I'm not going to change the law," he said. "They have to meet the standards. That's the only protection we have on our side right now."

The facility, which the county lists as a historic site, opened in 1934 as a sanatorium for children with tuberculosis. By 1960, the hospital was used for District residents with chronic illnesses. It was shut down in the early 1980s, and the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission bought the property from the District in 1995.

The once-pastoral landscape is now filled with weeds; windows that patients once peered out of are covered with wooden boards and twisted vines.

Some rooms still contain rusty hospital beds and medical equipment, and teenagers and other trespassers are known to risk being ticketed to roam the decaying buildings and tunnels that connect them. A group called the Maryland Ghost and Spirit Association has listed the hospital as an "official" haunted site.

All offers are final, and the property is being sold "as is."

The commission says it does not take responsibility for the removal or treatment of asbestos, lead or other hazardous materials in the buildings, which the solicitation terms "extensively vandalized." Hubbard said there are concerns about asbestos, and estimates have placed the cost of removal at about $8 million.

Gardner said the commission has been trying to find a suitable partner to "adapt and reuse" the property for several years.

According to the request for bids, the commission has the discretion to cancel the solicitation "in whole or in part at any time." It may also "reject any or all proposals submitted when this action is determined to be advantageous or in the best interest of the commission."

Staff researcher Meg Smith contributed to this report.

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