The District's general services administration recommended this week that the department of human resources demolish the Northwest Health Center at 1325 Upshur St. NW because the building is too badly deteriorated to make renovation feasible.
The proposal came after a month-long study by GSA's program management office at the request of DHR director Albert P. Russo. Russo commented that he would meet with GSA officials to discuss a replacement for the facility.
"One thing is certain," he said, "it will be replaced by a facility totally comfortable, convenient and serviceable to both staff and client." He said that DHR could purchase a building or move the clinic to another District building as alternatives to building a new health center.
William T. Jones, assistant director of the GSA office, said the study had received top priority over some 200 other government projects involving building improvements.
Based on his engineers' findings, Jones said, "Our recommendation to the department of human resources is that the building be demolished and new facilities provided."
DHR's original request, Jones said, was for GSA to survey the building and make a cost determination for renovation. A GSA estimator placed these costs between $1.5 and $2 million. However, such a program did not appear feasible, Jones added, because the building had decayed so drastically.
He said the survey revealed that a majority of the window sills and frames in the building had rotted, the majority of the floors had deteriorated because of termites and age, and a large part of the roof overhang and some of the pipes and fixtures needed replacing.
Fixtures, he said, would have to be replaced throughout the entire structure for it to comply with 1977 building code standards for a health clinic.
The building, Jones noted, was built in 1905 as a rehabilitation center for tuberculosis outpatients. And except where changes had been made, the building is still operating under the standards for that year.
"This building is 72 years old, and I'm not aware of any major renovations since it became a clinic," he said.
DHR said the facility opened as a clinic in 1956. It serves between 400 and 450 metropolitan area residents a day at costs ranging from $12.50 to $42.25 for initial visits.
If funds for a new building are provided in DHR's fiscal 1979 budget, Jones said, it would be the latter part of 1979 or early 1980 before construction began - "unless the department of human resources and the budget officer took some dramastic steps.
A new clinic, he added, would cost approximately $4 million and take one-and a half to two years to complete.
In an interview earlier this week, DHR director Albert P. Russo said he would comply with the recommendations of the general services administration.
"If their judgment is to rebuild, I'm certaintly going to recommend that," said Russo. "We'll seek the funds but it's going to be a long, arduous process.
"My basic concern," he said, "is to make sure we have a safe, sanitary facility there. This is our largest health facility in terms of size and workload."
"Over the years, we have all been penny-wise and pound-foolish. We haven't made the investment in the area of preventive maintenance (because) funds have been requested and denied."
Russo said until a new clinic is built the department would keep the facility open and try to make the building as habitable as possible. Russo said he considered the building to be neither unsafe, unsanitary or inoperable as a health facility.
"The building today looks 1,000 per cent better than it did a year ago," he said.
Virgil McDonald, DHR's assistant director for administration, said the agency has spent more than $36,000 in repairs on the facility since 1975. That year, DHR spent $53,432, most of it to fix the roof. The next year, they spent $24,508 for repairs that included a new boiler. In 1977, $9,000 was spent to repaint. These costs did not include regular ongoing maintenance expenses, McDonald said.
The building conditions at the 21-year-old clinic were brought to public attention earlier this month by Norman Neverson, Advisory Neighborhood Commission representative for area 4D.
Neverson said the clinic is not within his ANC district but he received so many complaints from residents throughout ward four that he decided to investigate the problem. He said he made numerous attempts to contact Russo about the facility in July. However, the director did not respond until Neverson held his press conference.
By that time, Neverson said, he had visited the clinic, witnessed the conditions and talked to many of the employees and patients. One condition he said he found was a roof leak that had forced the visiting nursing staff to abandon the top floor. The staff revealed they had been working in cramped quarters without the benefit of readily available phones for several months.
Within a week following his press conference, Neverson said he met with Russo and other DHR officials and was able to present other employee concerns.Neverson reported the following complains by employees:
Windows in the X-ray examining and waiting rooms were devoid of curtains and the X-ray file room flooded whenever it rained. A physically handicapped X-ray file clerk was doing the work of three men because replacements were never made after the other two workers left. The clerk, who suffers from asthma and epilespy, was also working under conditions that precipitated respiratory problems.
On several occasions, swarms of termites overran areas of the clinic and halted medical services.
The ceiling of one administrator's office was inhabited by squirrels, and squirrel droppings could be found on his ceiling and desk.
Leaks and cracking plaster persisted in areas throughout the building. And in spite of pest control measures, rats as large as squirrels could be seen in and outside the building.
Neverson said Russo assured him that he would try to rectify many of these situations immediately.
"I found Russo and his staff to be very helpful," Neverson said. "I felt many of the conditions would be corrected in a matter of dyas."
On visiting the clinic this week, Neverson said curtains, ordered 5 years ago, had been placed on the X-ray room dressing cubicles. Still, he said he believed that the employees would be satisfied with nothing less than a new facility and temporary quarters in another location until a new clinic is built.