A local attorney and business owner is seeking a court order that would force the City of Corbin to tear down the vacant Southeastern Kentucky Baptist Hospital.
David O. Smith filed the complaint in Whitley Circuit Court Feb. 9 on behalf of E-Z Demolition, Inc., naming as defendants in the suit the city, it’s mayor and all the members of the Corbin City Commission. Smith claims city leaders have been negligent and discriminatory in enforcing property maintenance laws and has allowed the old hospital to “fall into total disrepair.”
The complaint goes on to claim that the hospital, abandoned for 19 years, is a public health and environmental hazard, a public eyesore and a “magnet for thieves and vandalism.” It is also described as a “disgrace to the citizens of the community” and a “complete waste of valuable resource and misuse of taxpayer funds.”
Smith, who could not be reached for comment, is the sole officer of E-Z Demolition, a corporation that was formed Oct. 2000 and which owns property adjacent to the hospital, located on Bishop Street. Nine days before filing the lawsuit, Smith along with his wife and law partner Marcia, deeded land to E-Z Demolition, Inc.
Corbin City Attorney Bob Hammons said officials have been exploring “all avenues” in order to find a way to correct the problem.
“I think we acknowledge it is a problem. How could you not?,” Hammons said. “I’ll have to discuss it (the lawsuit) with my client, which is the city of Corbin, and we’ll take the appropriate action in response to it.”
The hospital has been the center of ongoing controversy over ownership and cleanup responsibility for years. The structure is a favorite target of salvagers, vandals and thrill-seekers. Last February, a local couple was cited for illegally salvaging copper from the building after state air quality inspectors confirmed that the building contains asbestos insulating material. Asbestos is a known cancer-causing substance that’s use in construction has been outlawed. Proper removal of the asbestos has made the prospect of demolishing the building prohibitively expensive.
Currently, the old hospital is owned by Larry Jeffries who hasn’t been located since he was jailed in Whitley County in early 2003 despite efforts by state officials to determine his whereabouts.
Besides structural problems, the grounds around the hospital have also been a point of contention. Corbin Building Inspector Frank Burke sent notices of violation to local businessman Robert Taylor last May over property maintenance concerns. Taylor owns much of the property surrounding the former hospital building. City officials say the area is overgrown and littered with trash in violation of Corbin ordinances.
In Sept. 2004, Commissioners voted unanimously to file a lawsuit against both men in an attempt to force them to clean up the building and surrounding property, but nothing has ever been filed. Hammons said legal action is “still pending.”
Last August, the Kentucky Department for Environmental Protection sealed all ground level entrances and windows with plywood in order to keep latent asbestos in the building, and vandals out. Many of those entryways have been forced back open.
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