Tuesday, March 6, 2007

'Wanton destruction' at Brook Run building


March 6, 2007
By Cathy Cobbs
For The Crier

ImageA beautiful Sunday on the playground at a local park. Families are gathered around the park’s swing sets and water features, socializing while their children explore and play.

Down the road, in the same park, on the same afternoon, a group of teenagers, armed with spray paint cans, start decorating the walls of an empty building on the grounds, unconcerned about a group of men observing them.

It’s not the first time this former hospital building has been defaced. In fact, it’s difficult to find a part of the 300,000-square-foot structure, which has been documented to contain asbestos, that hasn’t been damaged or destroyed.Virtually all the windows have been shattered. Doors have been kicked in.A fence surrounding the building lies flat to the ground. Profanity-laced and gang-related graffiti and pornographic images cover the walls.

Signs that fires have been set in the building exist in several areas, and one forlorn couch sits in the building’s reception area, blackened and burnt. Exposed electrical wires and sockets, along with insulation and ceiling tiles, hang down from the ceiling. Empty 9-mm shells and 12-gauge shotgun shells litter the floors.The location for this scene of yin and yang, light and dark, good and evil? Dunwoody’s Brook Run on North Peachtree Road.

“It’s the worst place you could ever imagine, worse than Camden, New Jersey, which is absolutely the most terrible place in the world to live,” said one Dunwoody resident who toured the building several weeks ago. “It’s just one horrible thing after another.”

“I was incredibly shocked,” said another resident who also toured the facility several times. “It just goes on and on and on. The wanton destruction of this building, the unsafe conditions, is just beyond belief.”

The duo said the damage done to the hospital building isn’t something that happened overnight. In fact, it’s been years in the making.
“It’s obvious people have had access to this building for years and years,” the second resident said. “This isn’t something that happened over a weekend or two.”

At least one of the people touring the hospital isn’t surprised at all.

John Heneghan, a Dunwoody North resident, has been in and out of the old hospital building during the last six months, and has witnessed the degradation of the area.

“I was there six months ago and then again recently, and not much has changed,” he said. “I’ve been trying to get someone to secure that building for a long time.”

Heneghan said his concern is the graffiti and destruction is moving away from the hospital and into areas closer to the Children’s Adventure Playground at the front of the park’s entrance.

In a letter written to CEO Vernon Jones in late January, Heneghan said, “Behind the theater and behind a single story office building, the boarded up windows of the building had the plywood taken down, many (about five) windows were completely broken out, the lights were on and front door side glass panel was wide open. I stuck my head in the back window and noticed signs that people had used the space in the not-so-distant past. I see this as a major safety factor for our neighborhood children and a lack of due diligence as to the management of this property.”

In a February 15 post on Dunwoody North’s website (www.dunwoodynorth.org), Brook Run Conservancy’s Nick Nicodemus said, “In follow-up to conversation, (Police North Precinct Commander) Major Gillstrap has assigned Lt. Tracy the responsibility for checking out vacant buildings at Brook Run for suspicious activity. In conversation with Lt. Tracy today, DeKalb Police will be making daily sweeps of the park beginning Friday, February 16th.”

DeKalb County Spokesperson Kristie Swink confirmed that complaints had been received about “the after-hour activities” at the hospital and that police had been contacted to increase patrols in the area.

In addition, Swink said a $1.3 million contract had just been awarded to Dore & Associates, Inc. for demolition and asbestos abatement at the hospital. The contract also includes demolition of the park’s power plant and several dormitories near the power plant.

“The work is expected to start by March 15,” Swink said. “I don’t have information as to when the work is supposed to be complete.”

Local residents remain particularly concerned that authorities haven’t secured a facility known to contain hazardous materials.

“This is a known hazardous materials site, which should never be open to the public,” one citizen said. “It should be secured and barricaded and it is not even close to being anywhere near that.”

Meanwhile, children and their families continue to play on the park’s nearby playground. And the former hospital building remains open and unsecured, an open target for continuing vandalism, danger, and trouble.

Reprinted with permission from the Dunwoody Crier: www.thecrier.net.

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