What's going on with the old Army and Navy Hospital?
All photos were anonymously submitted to The Hot Springs Post.
In an update given by Dr. Jack Porter today at the National Park Rotary Club on the old Army and Navy Hospital, light was shed on this abandoned majestic building that looms over downtown Hot Springs. Porter tells rotary the current primary goal for the structure is not to find a use for the buildings, but to get the deed back to the federal government and keep it from burning down, possibly taking a portion of the National Park with it, in the meantime.
The state of Arkansas currently holds the deed to the structure, but has attempted to give it back to the federal government since ACTI — the last organization to use the buildings — closed in 2019. However, the federal government does not want the deed to the buildings until extensive environmental impact studies have been conducted by the state. Once the deed is in the hands of an entity that wants it, a purpose for the structure can be discussed.
As the federal government required, the state conducted a phase one environmental study that concluded there are contaminants on the property. The federal government then required a more extensive phase two environmental study, which the state refused to pay for.
"The army isn't going to take it back until they know what they are taking back," Porter said.
By the beginning of this year, the funding for the phase two study was secured by the federal government, and passed on to the Corps of Engineering to conduct the study. Porter said it's "a long process that won't be over for awhile, but at least we have it going."
The over 20 acre property has over 30 buildings on it. Asbestos and lead paint contaminants have been found among the buildings, and six of the buildings have been deemed "at-risk," Porter said.
The property stands on National Park Property over a shallow ground recharge area where ground water mixes with the thermal spring water. Porter said he fears if the structures do burn down it will 1. mix the contaminants in with the thermal spring water rendering the springs unsafe, and 2. burn the trees up the mountain, not being able to be extinguished until it reaches the Mountain Tower.
The fear of fire comes from the known fact people regularly trespass and sleep in the building, which has no security. Despite the power being turned off by the state and National Park, breakers have been thrown by trespassers and lights can be seen illuminating numerous windows at night.
"The state, one of the stipulations was for them to take materials out of there, empty the place," Porter said. "They indicated they were going to take everything but debris out of there, but there's a lot more in those buildings left than debris."
Porter said the materials left on the property contribute to trespassing, and all the risks that go along with it, because they are valuable items that can be sold.
"When the state left, they left," he continued. "Before they left they had 24/7 security on that campus. With that, they were having to evict about one person a day off of that property.
"There is no security up there. They requested that the National Park Service do that, but the National Park Service does not have the manpower to do that at all, and it's quite frankly not the National Park Service's responsibility to do that.
"So what you've left is a void. You've left a void that has materials that are valuable, you have left it open to anybody who wants to go on the property can go on that property, so that creates a significant problem that we all should realize."
Porter said under the current circumstances it's not a matter of "if" a fire will occur, but "when."
So until the phase two environmental study has concluded, the federal government will not be accepting the deed from the state, but in the meantime two very important moves have recently been made.
Porter said the governor has just signed off on 24/7 security to be reinstated in the "near future," and the state has agreed to work with the National Park and the Corps of Engineers to remove the six "high-risk" buildings on the property.
Porter, along with other community members, volunteer on the Army and Navy Hospital Executive Committee. The committee was formed to support efforts in saving the now-abandoned historic structure.