PROVIDENCE — The new owner of the dilapidated former Saratoga County Homestead infirmary in Providence would like to turn it into a retreat for veterans, though he acknowledges making that happen will take millions of dollars and years of effort.
"I just looked as it as a serene place, place where veterans could come," said James Walk of Denton, Texas, who is himself an Iraq combat veteran. "Like most things in life, I strive for something that exceeds my grasp. I work for a large company, and one of the bosses' mottoes is, if you believe it and work at it, it will happen."
Saratoga County supervisors on Wednesday approved the sale of the aging building and accomanying 28.6 acres at the southern edge of the Adirondacks to Walk for $55,100, following an online auction that ended in late August. Walk bought the property sight unseen.
Walk had shown interest throughout the three-week auction, when the initial bidding started at around $30,000, and he said he put effort into making sure he was the high bidder. He said he read about plans for the county to auction the "haunted hospital" on an online news site, and followed links on the site to the auction site and photographs of the property.
"I looked at it and the first thing I saw was beautiful old architecture, it was a historic building and I wanted to restore that sense of something grand," he said Thursday. "I was looking for land, but not necessarily a project this big."
He said he realizes the extent of repair the building needs and that he will need millions of dollars. He has started a GoFundMe page in hopes of raising money from veterans' groups and others.
Walk, 49, is in a senior customer service position with the technology company Cisco Systems, which designs and builds networking hardware and telecommunications systems. He also served 15 years in the military, first in the Marines and later the Army, with multiple tours in Iraq, as an infantryman, communications specialist and construction engineer.
He said many veterans suffer from post-traumatic stress or other issues, and he envisions that the old Homestead could be a sanctuary for them. "In my mind's eye, I'd look to do it as a retreat, a place for veterans to go," he said.
Walk said he realizes it's a long-term project. He said he expects to relocate to New York at some point in the future, but not right away. "I realize it might not be finished in my lifetime, I will be the person to start it," said Walker, who is married with a child in college in Texas.
Providence Town Supervisor Sandra Winney, who has communicated with Walk by email, said she's optimistic something good will happen now that the property is back in private ownership.
"I just wish it would be a benefit to the town," Winney said. "It will be back on the tax rolls, but everyone in town has seen it as an eyesore. I'd just really like to see it benefit the town."
County officials resorted to the online auction after previous efforts to sell the hulking old building on Barkersville Road failed, despite county and federal efforts to clean up the property.
Under an agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency related to a 2016 federally funded asbestos cleanup, the EPA will receive half the auction proceeds, or $27,550. The EPA spend an estimated $1.3 million on the cleanup. The county was owed $76,656 in back taxes, but the auction wipes those liens from the books.
The massive, crumbling building sits on a remote hillside. It was built in 1913 as a tuberculosis sanitarium, and later was the Homestead, the county's home for the aged and infirm. It has been vacant for decades, after the county stopped using it in the late 1970s and sold it, and plans for a private drug rehabilitation center there failed to materialize.
The county re-acquired the property for unpaid back taxes in 2014, and spent several years studying environmental issues in the building, including the presence of asbestos — the project the EPA finally took on.
Over the decades, most of the building's windows have been broken, and it's been the site of numerous break-ins by teenagers and others who have heard tales of a "haunted hospital."
Winney said that Providence doesn't have zoning, but does have a site plan review system in which Walk's plans will probably need to be presented to the Town Board, which would refer them to the town Planning Board for approval.