GONZALES — The staccato voices of auctioneers filled the defunct East Ascension Hospital on Sunday as buyers snapped up everything from paintings to X-ray machines.
Auctioneers took turns at the microphone while “ringmen” kept track of the action, calling out in a loud voice to acknowledge each person’s bid.
Pictures of items were displayed on a screen in the former hospital waiting room along with lot numbers and the current bid. Some buyers sat in folding chairs watching the bidding while others examined the goods, including TVs, file cabinets and fax machines piled up in hallways.
Potential bidders Rodney LeBlanc and Sam West walked into a room containing wooden beds complete with mattresses. They didn’t need anything in particular, but might buy if something “comes to our eye,” LeBlanc said.
Brown’s Auction Co. of Lafayette ran the auction on behalf of Ascension Parish, which owns the building.
Saturday’s auction was unusually large, with 15,000 to 20,000 items for sale, Brown’s co-owner Cecil Brown said. The materials were grouped into lots and sometimes lots were gathered together for quick selling.
“This isn’t easy stuff to move.” Surplus cars and trucks are more in demand than office and medical equipment, he said.
Everything in the building was for sale, including the door frames and plumbing fixtures. Even some of the bricks were up for auction.
The 80,000-square-foot building at 615 E. Worthy St., was built in 1967.
A separate organization managed the former hospital — the building had not be used as a traditional hospital in several years — and rented it out to medical tenants, but gave it back to the parish a year ago, parish chief administrative officer Ken Dawson said.
The parish researched refurbishing the building for use as offices, but decided instead to demolish it and construct a new government complex. The move will allow the parish to consolidate its offices, save some rent and sell buildings it no longer needs.
“This will be a long-term win for the parish,” Dawson said.
Selling the items inside the building will streamline demolition.
“It’s easier and cheaper for a contractor to tear down an empty building,” Brown said.
Buyers must remove the items they purchase, including those that are bolted or mounted to walls, within three days unless they make special arrangements with the auction house.
The auctioneers sounded the same as any Brown has heard during his 42 years in the business, but technology has expanded their reach. Though many of the bidders were in the room holding up their registration numbers, others made purchases online from as far away as India and China.
“The auction business has changed. We used to gather a hundred people in a room and sell to them. Now it’s open to the world,” Brown said.
An hour into the bidding, West and LeBlanc stood in the hallway with Keith Matherne next to some old examining tables. West and LeBlanc said that they still intended to buy some items, though they hadn’t made any purchases yet.
Matherne worked in the building for 20 years as a maintenance person, “when it was a full hospital.” Curiosity lured him to the auction, not the desire to get a bargain, he said.