St. Charles Herald-Guide

Charity Hospital questions remain

Allen Lottinger - March 18, 2009

Many people are still convinced that Big Charity in New Orleans should be saved and restored to use as a Charity Hospital and LSU teaching facility. And the arguments for it keep getting better.

The folks in favor of it were originally mainly preservation proponents who cringe at the thought of moving or destroying some 167 historic homes in the area where LSU and Veterans Administration are currently planning to build brand new hospitals just uptown from the Big Charity site. In so doing, they would abandon the former sites of Veterans Hospital and Big Charity, both of which were extensively damaged during Hurricane Katrina.

The new location was supposed to link them and thus save by combining some of the facilities needed at each hospital. But The Veterans Administration is ready to go ahead with its project and have its hospital in use by 2012. LSU does not have money for its project yet so it will not be completed until later, which eliminates the savings benefit of combining facilities.

The preservationists argue that Big Charity is structurally sound and could be turned into a modern hospital and teaching facility sooner and at less cost than rebuilding the structure elsewhere by clearing the new area and starting from scratch. Whatís more, the new Veteransí Hospital could still be located on part of the nearby site where the new hospitals were planned and the site of the old Veteransí hospital could be saved for future expansion of LSU and Charity.

It seems that the preservationists have gained a step with the delay of the LSU project but they still need a clear-cut outlook on the benefit of preserving Big Charity and putting it to use again for what it was intended to be. If they can do that, most of the people would join them in their preservation and money saving efforts if such be the case. And we would keep the classic art deco structure we all relate to the medical profession of Louisiana. It seems that would be preferable to relegating it to condominiums or tearing it down, heaven forbid.

As much as we hate studies that delay projects, we think this one needs a final summation of the plusses and minuses of how to provide the area with charity and veterans hospitals and teaching facilities best with the least disruption possible to our historic infrastructure.