A pair of decaying, almost century-old buildings near the entrance of the sprawling Northport VA Medical Center campus will be demolished for parking, Rep. Tom Suozzi announced Friday.
Buildings 1 and 2 previously housed the main Northport VA hospital but have been vacant for decades, standing as stark examples of Northport’s aging infrastructure.
Suozzi (D-Glen Cove), who has lobbied the Department of Veterans Affairs to demolish the structures since his election in 2017, said the dilapidated buildings — which are surrounded by hazard fencing because of the risk of falling debris — send the wrong message to the public about how the facility cares for its veterans.
"It's one of the very first things you see when you pull in there," Suozzi said. "There are holes in the roof. The windows are all broken. They are 90-year-old buildings that have been abandoned for 20 to 30 years."
The Army Corps of Engineers this week awarded a $6.98 million demolition contract to Weber Enterprise, LLC, of upstate Latham, Suozzi said. A demolition date is likely a year away, Suozzi said, as the contractor must remove lead and asbestos from the buildings.
Moving forward, Suozzi said the Northport VA must be more efficient with its use of space.
"Medicine is so different from what it was 100 years ago when these buildings were first built," he said. "You don't need this huge, sprawling campus. You need quality, consolidated buildings."
The Northport VA and Army Corps of Engineers did not respond to requests for comment about the project.
Problems at the Northport VA, which cares for 31,000 veterans annually, have drawn increasing attention since at least 2016, when failing air-conditioning equipment in the Vietnam War-era hospital building forced a four-month suspension of all surgeries, sending veterans to get emergency surgery in Manhattan or the Bronx.
Long Island's only veterans hospital has undergone several leadership changes in recent years with past administrators allowing numerous infrastructure projects to go uncompleted, forcing the facility to forfeit repair dollars.
A 2017 internal VA investigation concluded that poor oversight of contractors resulted in incomplete projects costing Northport more than $9 million in federal funding.
That same year, Rep. Phil Roe (R-Tenn.), then-chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, toured Northport and said it was in need of nearly $300 million in repairs and infrastructure improvements.
In 2018, former VA Director Scott Guermonprez announced a three-year plan to address infrastructure problems, including the demolition of the two buildings, and to manage staffing concerns among the 1,800 employees.
The plan called for the VA to hire 62 engineers and custodial workers; to repave all roads on the 268-acre campus and to replace broken air-conditioning equipment.
Workers at the Northport VA reported broken medical equipment, hazardous conditions, understaffing, filthy facilities and unresponsive management in an anonymous survey commissioned by the Department of Veterans Affairs in 2018.
Last month, the VA Inspector General's Office found a ceiling pipe leak and a faulty floor pipe in Building 65 of the campus had forced the closure of four rooms — a kitchen area, a women's restroom, and two psychologist's offices — from February to mid-October 2019. Repairs to the entire building, the inspector general said, will cost $5.9 million.