Better security sought at Norwich Hospital

Greg Smith

Norwich Bulletin

PRESTON -- In the wake of a suspicious fire Saturday, First Selectman Robert Congdon said state officials have reiterated their commitment to keeping people off the grounds of the former Norwich Hospital.

Congdon said he and Preston Fire Marshal Thomas Casey toured the long-vacant Route 12 property Tuesday with state police and Commissioner of Public Works James T. Fleming.

"I got the clear message the commissioner was interested in doing everything he can," Congdon said, "and plans an aggressive effort to put an end to the people going in these buildings for any reason."

While the cause of Saturday's fire is undetermined, Casey said it is obvious people have entered the building where the fire started.

"There is some evidence of activity in the building -- food wrappers, soda cans, beer bottles --that kind of stuff," Casey said. "It wasn't the first time someone was in that building."

The fire started in a second-floor room on the southwest side of a former administrative building on the 419-acre state-owned property. Casey said there is no indication the fire was set intentionally, but with no working utilities, it is likely someone played a role in starting it either accidentally or otherwise.

The fire was spotted shortly before midnight by a security guard with Securitas, hired by the state to monitor the sprawling vacant site.

Jeffrey Beckham, managing attorney for the state Department of Public Works, said the state pays about $100,000 a year for security at the site, but declined to discuss details of the security publicly.

"No access is allowed," Beckham said. "The commissioner is committed to that."

In the past year, state police have arrested several individuals for trying to steal copper from the buildings. In one case last year, security guards with Securitas were charged. The most recent arrest came earlier this month.

"It's a huge property and very, very difficult to secure," Congdon said. "From my perspective the (state) has been very responsive to the need. They're not just brushing it under the table."

The Norwich Hospital continues to be the center of focus for developers vying for town approval to acquire the property. The town plans to choose a developer willing to pay an estimated $40 million in environmental cleanup before January 2009 when Preston is expected to take ownership from the state.

Until then, Casey said safety, especially for firefighters entering buildings, will be a constant concern. And with no water on the site, stretching hoses from hydrants on Route 12 makes fighting fires, especially at buildings farther from the road, another challenge.

This article was written by Greg Smith and published by Norwich Bulletin on Wednesday, August 15th 2007 and NOT owned by nor affiliated with, but are recorded here solely for educational use.