Legislative committee wants to raze old hospital at historic Fort Bayard
A bipartisan group of state legislators wants to spend $5 million to demolish the old Fort Bayard medical center, but one member says history may stand in the way.
Members of the Military and Veterans’ Affairs Committee on Tuesday endorsed a bill to tear down the vacant hospital near Silver City, citing upkeep expenses as the primary reason.
Maintaining Fort Bayard costs state taxpayers about $45,000 a month. Of that, $34,000 a month goes toward the old hospital for its boiler plant, according to the state General Services Department. The boiler provides heat to the hospital and associated buildings.
State Rep. Dianne Hamilton, R-Silver City, said the costs are a strike against letting the hospital stand. Even so, Hamilton said, tearing down the building may not be as simple as a legislative vote.
Fort Bayard, whose roots stretch to 1866, was designated as a national historic landmark in 2004. It has been a New Mexico historic district since 2001.
Hamilton said Fort Bayard’s historic designations may create hurdles to razing the hospital.
The committee nonetheless decided to back a bill to demolish the building. Its members said Rep. Rudy Martinez, right, would sponsor the measure.
Martinez, D-Bayard, reached afterward, said discussions had begun with federal agencies about the hospital’s usefulness and the possibility of tearing it down. He said the building, though part of a historic site, could be a roadblock to progress.
“I think that’s one of the reasons it’s difficult to do anything with economic development in that area,” Martinez said.
Fort Bayard medical center, built in 1921, would require an investment of about $28 million to bring it up to code, the General Services Department estimated.
Fort Bayard has been owned by the state since 1965. Until 2010 it was home to a long-term care center for military veterans.
The U.S. government was the first operator of the fort, decades before New Mexico received statehood. It established Fort Bayard as part of the war against Apaches and the campaign to capture Geronimo, a mission that succeeded in 1866.
That same year, all-black units organized after the Civil War were assigned to Fort Bayard. In the lore of the West, they became known as Buffalo Soldiers.
The post’s most famous officer probably was John “Black Jack” Pershing, who went on to lead expeditions in World War I and against revolutionary Pancho Villa in Mexico.
For all its glorious history, the 468-acre fort has become a drain on the state treasury, the General Services Department stated in a report to the committee.
“Most of the 81 structures on the site, including the 145,000-square-foot hospital, are in need of significant repair and are deteriorating rapidly. In its current, unused condition, the property is an expensive maintenance liability for the state,” the department said.
Its recommendation to the Legislature was to demolish the old hospital.
“Although the building is structurally sound and the projected rehabilitation costs are relatively low, the layout of the floor plan is not suitable for most contemporary medical functions,” the department stated in its report.
The bill endorsed by the committee is to be introduced in January, when a 60-day legislative session begins.