EDITORIAL: Bulldozing history shouldn't be easy: Ivy Tech should keep its promise

July 28, 2008

Bulldozing history shouldn't be easy Ivy Tech should keep its promise

Ivy Tech Community College says it is continuing to seek feedback from the public about how best to redevelop the old St. Vincent Hospital property just north of downtown, but it already has an architect's drawing of what could replace the neoclassical structure built in 1912.

Does that mean Ivy Tech's leaders have their minds made up about the property's future? We hope not. The city turned over the old hospital and surrounding buildings to Ivy Tech for a single dollar more than two years ago after the school agreed to preserve the main building as part of a campus expansion.

We think it's a promise worth keeping.

When the deal was announced in May 2006, it seemed like the perfect solution to a couple of problems. First was Ivy Tech's need to expand its landlocked main campus at Meridian Street and Fall Creek Parkway. Next door, between Capitol Avenue and Illinois Street, sits the old hospital grounds. The city was searching for a use for the old St. Vincent building, which was vacant and in disrepair after decades of use as low-income housing.

Nothing has changed. The building still needs rescuing and the school still needs more space.

The only difference now is that Ivy Tech claims the building might be too expensive to save. It hasn't officially asked the city to let it out of the earlier agreement, but it has approached city officials with concerns about the cost of rehabilitating the structure, citing the existence of inconveniently placed load-bearing walls.

Ivy Tech knew about those walls a year ago and presumably had some knowledge of the building's condition before agreeing to buy it. It knew, for instance, that several other buildings on the five-acre property were unsound and needed to be razed. That work has been done.

That leaves room for the school to construct additional classroom and lab space on the vacant portions of the site while it determines the best use of the historic structure.

In the meantime, Ivy Tech can demonstrate that it's sincere about keeping its word and preserving a part of the city's history by working closely with Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana to save the building. The not-for-profit Landmarks, which has saved historic structures around the state, not only has the will to keep the building standing, but it has the expertise to determine if saving it is truly cost-prohibitive.

Absent that finding, the city should press Ivy Tech to honor its agreement.

Grand old buildings of centuries past give cities their unique identity and help preserve our collective history. The old Marion County Courthouse on East Washington Street and the English Opera House that once graced the northwest quadrant of Monument Circle would be crown jewels of our downtown if they hadn't been torn down years ago. Ivy Tech is lucky to have such a landmark in its possession, and it should do all it can to keep it.

To comment on this editorial, write to ibjedit@ibj.com.
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