Bon Secours deal with city crumbles on Westhampton school building

Jeremy M. Lazarus | 12/30/2016, 9:04 a.m.
Outgoing Mayor Dwight C. Jones has long complained that he never received proper credit for the deal he crafted with ...

Outgoing Mayor Dwight C. Jones has long complained that he never received proper credit for the deal he crafted with the Bon Secours hospital system that brought the Washington pro football team’s training camp to Richmond.

He speaks proudly of the fact that Bon Secours paid two-thirds of the cost of building the $10 million training camp on West Leigh Street, where the health care group also operates medical offices. He also was proud that Bon Secours separately agreed to invest more than $32 million in new medical facilities in the East End and the West End that are supposed to create 200 new jobs and provide hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax revenue to the city.

But three years later, a big chunk of that deal appears to be falling apart — Bon Secours’ plan to spend $24 million to transform the former Westhampton School building in the West End into a home for its college of nursing.

While the health system apparently is moving ahead with its plan to build an $8.5 million medical office building that would create 75 jobs near its Richmond Community Hospital in the East End, Bon Secours is dropping its plan to reuse the almost 100-year-old landmark building at Libbie and Patterson avenues for its nursing program.

The reason: Too costly, according to Toni R. Ardabell, chief executive officer of the Bon Secours Virginia Health System.

The updated estimate from the architect nearly doubled the construction costs to around $43 million, Ms. Ardabell stated. That estimate has since been confirmed by two other architectural firms, she said.

Because of the cost, she stated that Bon Secours now plans to build that nursing college on a vacant portion of the land where its Memorial Regional Medical Center stands in Hanover County. That cost: $15 million, she stated.

Meanwhile, Ms. Ardabell has come forward with an alternative for the Westhampton site. To the dismay of many, she said Bon Secours is willing to tear down the former school building and construct a two-story, medical office building to meet its 2013 performance agreement with the city’s Economic Development Authority.

The idea has gone over like a lead balloon among West End residents who treasure the building that dates to 1917 and once housed Richmond Community High School.

Members of Richmond City Council already are lining up to oppose demolition of the building. Among them is Chris A. Hilbert, 3rd District, who has accused Bon Secours of backing out of its deal.

However, the actual document that Bon Secours signed did not include any requirement to renovate or reuse the school building that was constructed at a time when that area was part of Henrico County, long before the city annexed it in 1942.

The deal dated July 7, 2013, only requires Bon Secours to spend a minimum of $24 million in construction costs at the site for a medical facility that would generate $288,000 a year in tax revenue. Nothing in the language requires Bon Secours to put a college of nursing there.