Still no clear answers about the fate of Richmond Community Hospital

George Copeland Jr. | 3/21/2024, 6 p.m.
After weeks of questions and uncertainty, plans for the possible demolition of the former Richmond Community Hospital remain unresolved.
About 70 people attended a meeting at Holton Elementary School last night to hear Virginia Union University officials discuss the fate of the former Richmond Community Hospital building. Photo by George Copeland Jr./Richmond Free Press

After weeks of questions and uncertainty, plans for the possible demolition of the former Richmond Community Hospital remain unresolved.

Virginia Union University is reconsidering its plans for the historic building, which served for decades as a medical resource for African-Americans in need. VUU previously announced its intent in February to demolish it as part of a housing project organized through a partnership with the Steinbridge Group.

However, VUU hasn’t fully, publicly detailed what might come next for the former hospital or committed to specific alternatives, and a town hall meeting Wednesday evening at Linwood Holton Elementary School offered few straight answers.

“We still haven’t heard them say no demolition. We’re still concerned about that,” said Viola Baskerville, who attended the meeting that drew about 70 other members of the community.

“We are excited to hear that they agree to adaptive reuse of the building, but we want to also have them have Historic Richmond come in and do an independent assessment of that building.”

VUU appeared open to other options after a private meeting between Ms. Baskerville, The Camel owner Farid Alan Schintzius, VUU President Hakim J. Lucas and 3rd District Councilmember Ann-Frances Lambert last Thursday.

Ms. Baskerville, a former state House Delegate who has helped lead community efforts to preserve the hospital, and Mr. Schintzius shared with Dr. Lucas and Ms. Lambert their ideas to preserve the hospital. According to Ms. Baskerville, they found an open audience for their ideas.

“(Dr. Lucas) was receptive and committed to rehabilitation of the building and adaptive reuse,” Ms. Baskerville said.

This news was further expanded in a Thursday statement from Ms. Lambert, who confirmed that VUU hasn’t submitted a demolition permit for the site following a conversation with Kevin J. Vonck, director of Planning Development and Review for the City of Richmond.

Ms. Lambert also noted that, while City Council has no authority to stop a demolition permit once submitted, she was committed to ensuring the hospital isn’t removed.

“I am absolutely opposed to any attempt to demolish the former Richmond Community Hospital,” Ms. Lambert said, “and I will stand in complete solidarity with the community to oppose all efforts to demolish this historic asset to our community.”

The Thursday meeting was one of the more significant developments in the conversation around the hospital and its future. Growing public awareness of VUU’s plans for the site had inspired community outcry in the weeks beforehand, along with efforts from officials and organizations throughout the city to offer compromises and alternatives to the demolition.

The 3rd District Town Hall, organized by Ms. Lambert, wouldn’t see further answers provided or more definitive messages on the matter. Franklin Patterson, VUU’s vice president of administrative services and iInfrastructure management, attended the meeting in place of Dr. Lucas, who had originally been scheduled to appear and discuss their plans for the hospital.

He stressed that, despite what “misconceptions” the community may have heard, the hospital’s removal was not part of VUU’s plans for the area but didn’t give more concrete details for how they may preserve the building.

“Yes, there is an affordable housing project on the table in its early stages,” Dr. Patterson said. “But the president has committed to working with community leaders, having a meeting with them on campus in the near future (...) to talk about the Community Hospital and how we can get the best and brightest minds to figure out how to redevelop, reuse, repurpose this hospital into this other project.”

“We have no fight with the community. We are committed to working with everyone.”

Advocates and concerned residents are set to return to the hospital for another community gathering Sunday, April 7, from 1 to 3 p.m.