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Despite a last-ditch effort by community members to find other buyers, the Kingsburg Hospital District Board voted to approve a lease agreement with the Crestwood Behavioral Health at a special meeting Wednesday, Feb. 25.

“We’re ready to sign and invest $2 million and create at least 50 jobs,” said Crestwood spokesman Larry Kamer after the vote was taken.

The lease was originally scheduled to be approved at a Feb. 4 meeting, but action was postponed to allow members of the Kingsburg Citizens Committee and the public more time to review the lease document.

"We felt like the time for potential had come and gone," said Hospital Board Chair Arlie Rogers of the decision to go ahead with the lease. The board had been searching for an occupant for the hospital for years and Rogers said there's "been ample time to look for a solution." 

Community members continued to raise safety concerns regarding the patients that would be served at the mental health facility.

“I don’t care how you [board] that place up, you’re still bringing unstable people to a neighborhood within 50 feet of 400 children under the age of 10,” said John Gerard, a resident who lives near the hospital.

Others who live nearby however voiced support for the facility.

“There are plenty of checks and balances to control this (safety) situation,” said Mark Jones.

Meanwhile, Kingsburg Citizens Committee members also continued to raise objections regarding access to board documents and asked the board to postpone making a decision until all board members were present and a vacant seat on the board be filled. They also brought other potential buyers to make presentations to the board.

Since the Feb. 4 meeting, Gary Nelson promoted the lease or sale of the hospital to potential buyers and brought Fresno representatives from Colliers International, a commercial and residential real estate services organization, and the Larry Hillblom Foundation which supports medical research through the University of California.

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Michael Schuh and Brent Todd with Colliers International and Terry Hillblom with the Hillblom Foundation both expressed interest in either marketing the buildings or developing medical facilities there.

“They can’t say it’s a done deal, but they’re saying ‘let’s look at this,’” Nelson said of the two groups’ proposals.

Crestwood attorney Laurie Schrum reminded the board that Crestwood worked with local police departments and schools and addressed safety issues in its conditional use permit.

Prior attempts to sell or lease the hospital through various proposals had proved fruitless so far and Schrum said there’s been ample time and a series of meetings where others could have made offers prior to now.

“The notion that no one knew that this facility was for sale is a little bit disingenuous where they actually went to a ballot measure in 2010. It’s been sitting there empty,” Schrum said. “This is not something that there’s only been a couple of weeks to respond to.”

Schrum also cautioned that at some point Crestwood may withdraw its offer if the lease vote was continued indefinitely.

“What we’ve heard is maybe there’s a possibility of finding someone. But you have somebody now. You have a partner who is ready, willing and able to move forward with a lease of the facility and ultimately to buy that facility. There would be a point where you would no longer have an offer from Crestwood and you would only have these unknown offers for a building that continues to deteriorate.”

After the vote, members of the Citizens Committee said they were frustrated the other proposals were not considered more thoroughly.

“I’m very disappointed that after putting time and effort into (finding other buyers), to get no response. They didn’t even take the time to analyze it,” Nelson said after the session.

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Contact this reporter at lbrown@selmaenterprise.com

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