GONZALES — Ascension Parish government officials plan to make a decision in the next three months about what to do with the old Ascension Hospital in Gonzales.
An architecture firm hired by the parish recommended that the hospital be demolished and replaced by a new $7.8 million, 42,000-square-foot building to house 12 departments in the parish government.
But parish officials still are evaluating the best course of action, including possibly renovating a portion of the existing hospital and building new parish government offices on the property, which is located on East Worthey Road near the Ascension Parish Courthouse Annex and East Ascension High School.
Parish President Tommy Martinez said the two architects from Mougeot Architecture — David Mougeot and Tommy Dauzat — presented a “very thorough report” to the Parish Council’s Strategic Planning Committee on Oct. 1, and he plans to study the situation for another couple of months before making a recommendation to the council in January.
However, Martinez said after seeing the Mougeot report, it was “kind of a no-brainer to build a new facility there.”
Mougeot said building a new facility would cost the parish $7,823,700, while refurbishing the existing 75,000-square-foot building would cost $7,747,900 — a difference of less than $100,000. In addition, Dauzat said the construction of a new building could save the parish about $180,000 per year in electrical costs.
Mechanical, plumbing, electrical and environmental consultants studied the existing building, a 54-bed hospital that formerly was one of the premier health care facilities in the parish and region, to see if it was feasible for the parish to take over the hospital and turn it into consolidated government offices.
The council voted in July to abolish the East Ascension Parish Hospital Service District, which oversees the hospital. The district will turn over its assets, including $5 million, which will be used for the new project, to the parish. The district had tried unsuccessfully for the past 18 months to lease the bulk of the hospital and turn an operational profit.
The property’s major tenant, Promise Healthcare, will leave the building once its five-year lease expires in January.
Mougeot said the study showed several reasons why it would be more feasible to demolish the hospital and build new office space instead of trying to retrofit the 46-year-old building to house 12 parish departments, including the administrative and finance divisions.
The building’s roof hasn’t been changed in 27 years and would need to be replaced, Mougeot said.
In addition, the building has lead paint and asbestos that would need to be abated, entrances and exits would need to be reworked and more than 30,000 square feet of the building would sit unused.
By opting to start over from scratch, he said, parish officials could design the new space for specific uses needed by each department.
“We feel that Option B (demolition and rebuilding) would be in the best interests of the parish,” Mougeot said.
Like Martinez, Councilman Benny Johnson said that because of the slight difference in cost of demolishing the current building and constructing a new one, as well as the potential long-term energy savings, he believes Option B to be the right move for the parish.
“It’s almost like a no-brainer to do the new construction,” Johnson said.
Martinez did leave open the option of not tearing down the current hospital building, while still constructing new parish offices on the East Worthey land. Martinez said he’s been contacted by several people “in the film industry” who would like to have an old hospital building in Ascension Parish as a location to shoot scenes for movies.
He said he would research the feasibility during the next few months of keeping the building, adding that any costs for refurbishing the building (such as replacing the roof) and running electricity would have to be negotiated in any contract with the film industry.
If no agreement can be made with the film industry, Martinez said, he expects to recommend that the building be torn down to make room for a new one. But he wants to make sure he studies the issue further before moving forward with an official recommendation.
“We’re not in a big hurry,” Martinez said.
As the parish has grown, Martinez said, he’s constantly searched for ways to expand. Building one complex to house most of the parish offices gives the parish the option of moving other agencies, such as the District Attorney’s Office, to existing parish-owned buildings or sell those buildings for additional money.
“There’s plenty of room on the complex for additional sites. ... There’s so much potential here,” Dauzat said.