St. Luke’s to knock down Palmerton hospital in fall
ABOVE: St. Luke's Hospital Palmerton Campus.
St. Luke’s University Health Network is targeting a fall 2020 demolition date for the Palmerton Hospital building.
John Nespoli, president of St. Luke’s Carbon Campus, gave an update on future plans for the site along Lafayette Avenue during a Palmerton Area Chamber of Commerce luncheon Tuesday afternoon.
The potential vision for the site, according to Tuesday’s slide presentation, is for a 62 and over senior housing community with up to 140 town houses and apartments.
“We plan to remove the hospital to prepare a building pad for a future use,” Sam Kennedy, St. Luke’s spokesman said in an email, “possibly senior housing or a health care facility of some sort. We are still exploring the possibilities in consultation with the community, but our commitment is to maintain the old hospital building until we remove it in the fall in preparation for something new the community will appreciate.”
As many as two years ago, Robert Martin, St. Luke’s senior vice president, spoke at a Palmerton Chamber meeting and discussed the possibility of demolishing the current hospital building to make room for senior housing.
“We’re not in the business of leaving buildings falling apart,” Martin said at the time. “We’re a nonprofit. We exist for the benefit of the community and we want to take that asset and turn it into something the residents would be most happy with.”
The decision to close the hospital was a tough pill to swallow for many community residents. The news of its pending demolition doesn’t come any easier and hearkens back to memories of when the original hospital was torn down in the 1970s. Former Palmerton Hospital President Peter Kern, however, said the current building, built in 1967, has served its purpose well and is 100 percent in favor of the plans St. Luke’s has for the space.
“This decision to tear down the hospital building did not come without a lot of forethought and planning,” Kern said. “It is painful to see an old friend go, but I think it is a logical end to a long and historic era in Palmerton’s history.”
Following the St. Luke’s merger with the Blue Mountain Health System, it analyzed the building in Palmerton, which was aging rapidly.
Structural, mechanical, electrical, plumbing and other improvements, network officials said, were estimated at around $30 million. Over time, Kern said, people will come to realize retrofitting the current hospital building would be more expensive than taking it down and using the property for the same purpose.
“The building is over 50 years old and was not built to the same standards we have today,” Kern said. “There may be environmental issues that would cause retrofitting to have a greater cost. The decision to take it down, in my opinion, is justified.”
Should the plans for senior housing come to fruition, Kern added, it will fill a major need in the community.
“If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a dozen times, Palmerton needs this type of housing,” he said. “I think this helps show that Palmerton is a growing community, not a static community.”
The focus at Tuesday’s luncheon, Kennedy said, was Carbon County in general and all of the positive developments there including the new Carbon County campus in Franklin Township, improvements at the Lehighton campus, the new health center in Palmerton, and all of the new St. Luke’s specialists throughout the county.
The network will be opening the St. Luke’s Health Center — Palmerton, at 614 Delaware Ave, the former Haja Lanes bowling alley. Services will include primary care, lab services, radiology and occupational medicine.
“Most of the physician specialty and outpatient services you would find in a hospital will now be available at the Delaware Avenue site,” Kennedy said.
A ribbon cutting for the Health Center is scheduled for Monday, with the doors set to open a week later.
“We’re all very proud of what St. Luke’s has done on Delaware Avenue,” Kern said. “I think what they have done and what they plan to do, fulfills in many ways what they set out to do when they took over Blue Mountain Health System.”