People have been born there. Doctors have performed operations there. People have died there.
The dilapidated hospital has even been used as a haunted house at Halloween.
But if all goes well, by the beginning of next year people will be able to live there.
The former Taylor Memorial Hospital in Hawkinsville sat vacant for about 40 years and was an eyesore as its roof caved in and windows were busted out. Litter and debris were strewn about the former operating room, patient rooms and the morgue. Plaster was falling off the walls.
The building was deteriorated nearly beyond recovery.
But a massive renovation effort is underway, and the historic hospital is being brought back to life.
The hospital is at 161 Commerce St. on the corner of Warren Street just off U.S. 341, a main route coming into town from the north.
Atlanta-based TBG Residential began working on the project nearly two years ago, and it was able to qualify for historic tax credits and affordable housing tax credits to turn the hospital into apartments. Actual construction began about four months ago on the 42,000-square-foot building as lead-based paint and asbestos was removed and work began to create 34 apartments, mostly one-bedroom, one-bath units, in the hospital.
Although TBG Residential has been in the construction business for more than 40 years, this is the first time the company has renovated a historic structure into apartments, said Mike Brandt, vice president of construction.
The company is preserving “the architectural integrity” of the original hospital by retaining as much of the structure as it can, he said.
There are several challenges working on an old building, especially one that was added onto twice over the years.
Most apartment structures are stacked one on top of another, so walls from one unit above are similar to the one below, and piping and wiring go straight down through, Brandt said.
“But the biggest challenge here is none of the buildings are the same,” he said. “The method of how things are routed through the building is tremendously different from what they would be on a new structure.”
Also construction Superintendent Don Fowler said during a tour of the facility that a dropped ceiling had to be installed in many parts of the old building in order to put in the HVAC equipment and to run the wiring.
Referring to it as “a gateway to the city,” TBG President Kevin Buckner said the building “has some very cool historic features that we have to keep.”
Some of the old windows and crown moldings were deteriorated so much they had to be rebuilt to match the original to maintain the historical integrity of the building, Fowler said.
The company had to find a plasterer who specialized in historic plaster to repair many of the walls, he said.
“It has 34 custom units,” Brandt said. “Not one unit is the same as another one.”
That is true too when it comes to the location of some of the units. At least two renters will get units with a unique story. One apartment is where the hospital’s operating room was located. The circular window on the front door and the green tile on the walls will remain, Fowler said. And another unit is where the morgue used to exist.
While some stories are floating around that there is something paranormal in one section of the hospital, Fowler said he and his crew haven’t seen any evidence of it.
Entire project to cost about $11 million
To make the project viable and economical, the company also is building an additional 34 new apartments across Warren Street from the hospital. Some of those units will have up to three bedrooms. All the apartments will be called Taylor Village.
Rent for the apartments in both sections is expected to run just under $400 a month for a one bedroom to just over $500 for a three-bedroom unit, Buckner said. The size of the units is from 550 square feet up to 1,300 square feet.
“The hard cost construction for the hospital is $3.7 million,” he said. “The total development cost for the entire project is approximately $11.1 million.”
The company is committed to operating the apartments for a minimum of 15 years, Brandt said.
City Commissioner Shelly Berryhill, who was born in the old hospital, said it was an important building for the city.
“What we are so excited about, it’s such a landmark and now it’s coming back to its former glory,” Berryhill said. “Since they got a historical tax grant, they have to bring it back just like it was (on the exterior). It’s going to be beautiful again. So we are so excited.”
The new apartments are needed. Several projects are underway in Hawkinsville, such as a huge expansion of Hollingsworth & Vose, its largest private employer, and Cherokee Brick, which will bring new jobs when it opens a facility there.
“So (the apartments) will provide the housing needed as we add all these new jobs,” he said.
Some local people have posted on Facebook that they were going create “the full circle club,” he said. “There are so many of us who were born in that hospital. … They said they were going live in those apartments until they died, so they would have been born and died there.”
The former hospital, originally named the R.J. Taylor Memorial Hospital, was given to the city of Hawkinsville by R.J. Taylor of Macon in memory of his father and grandfather who were doctors in Hawkinsville and Pulaski County, according to an article in The Macon Telegraph and News on June 12, 1934. At the time it was the only hospital south of Macon in Georgia.
About 200 guests were expected to be seated on a platform during the dedication ceremony, and several streets were blocked for the event, the article said.
But the hospital closed in the 1970s when the new Taylor Regional Hospital opened, and it remained vacant.
“It’s gone through multiple owners who were going to try to do something with it, and it never happened,” Berryhill said. “It’s just been deteriorating worse and worse. It was almost beyond the point of being able to be saved.”
So when TBG showed an interest in the property, the city did everything it could to expedite the process as far as paperwork is concerned, he said.
“We are taking an eyesore and making something that’s going to be gorgeous, and it’s right there on one of the main throughways of our town. So, that’s huge.”