Sitkans had another opportunity to voice their opinions on the potential sale of the former Sitka Community Hospital building at a town hall on Tuesday (3-30-21). And those opinions remain mixed, with a slight majority in favor of selling, when you add in the results of an online survey.
Earlier this year, the Sitka Assembly directed city staff to seek community feedback before developing a “Request for Proposals” for the property. The Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC) bought Sitka Community Hospital in 2019, but didn’t purchase the building or the land. The deal included a five-year lease of the property. SEARHC currently houses long-term care there, but last fall the consortium expressed interest in purchasing the property.
As city staff took notes on a whiteboard, Sitkans responded to a series of questions. Questions like “are you in favor of selling the site and why?” and “ If we do not sell the site, what should it be used for?” Several people who spoke at the town hall were against a sale, including some residents who testified against the sale at the previous meeting. Nancy Yaw Davis added her voice to the mix on Tuesday. She said she was surprised to learn the option to not sell the property was still on the table.
“I thought it had already been sold. That’s how dumb and out of it I’d been. I didn’t know we had an option of 5 years to have a discussion about that property,” she said. “I’m against selling it, and I’m puzzled. What’s the rush? We need time to think creatively, what kind of town do we want? How can that property be used in the process of discussion, for some really healthy evaluation of what we love about Sitka.”
Michelle Putz supported the hospital sale and said keeping it would be too costly for the city.
“Retrofitting is expensive, if we try to retrofit that to anything,” she said. “Maintenance is going to be expensive- that building is not that new.”
Martha Moses also voiced support for the hospital sale, and said she hoped it would be sold to SEARHC to bolster Sitka’s long-term care.
“I believe that SEARHC’s intent is to upgrade the long-term care for our most vulnerable people,” she said.
Around 25 people showed up at the meeting. But 135 Sitkans had also responded to an online survey about the sale with the same questions being asked at the meeting.
Of the 135 people who had responded so far, “51.1 percent stated they were in favor of the sale. 27.4 percent stated they were opposed to the sale. 21.5 percent stated they were unsure about selling,” said City Administrator John Leach.
Leach said the feedback was varied on Sitkans’ preferred uses for the property and what Sitkans don’t want to see the building turned into.
Residents still have time to give feedback. The survey is available online through Friday.