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Dec 18, 5:19 PM EST

Former mental hospital in Pendleton to be razed


PENDLETON, Ore. (AP) -- After years of trying to save it, Pendleton leaders are cheering plans to raze the former Blue Mountain Recovery Center, a state mental hospital that was shuttered in March.

The hospital's closure cost 120 people their jobs, and local officials now hope to clear the land for new development and employment.

State lawmakers allocated $1 million earlier this month to level the site of the hospital and the site of a facility for people with developmental disabilities that was closed in 2009, the East Oregonian reported Thursday ( http://bit.ly/1x3kOdh ).

Once the land is cleared, the city of Pendleton hopes to win ownership. Among the potential uses are industrial development - perhaps for companies interested in drone tests underway in the town - and housing for Blue Mountain Community College.

A state staff member won applause when he announced the $1 million allocation earlier this week at a City Council meeting.

Republican state Rep. Bob Jenson had for years worked to keep the mental health facility open and won some delays. But as the state tried to reform a mental health system that many said was in poor shape, the Eastern Oregon facility with a capacity for 60 was judged to be obsolete.

The Legislature ordered it closed, and a study started to figure out how to use the property. Many local leaders concluded that reusing the existing buildings wouldn't work.

The Legislature's Emergency Board unanimously approved the demolition money Dec. 10, Jenson said, after he and Sen. Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose, argued against a staff recommendation to put off a decision.

The city's plans hinge on legislative action next year to transfer the property, which Jenson said he'd monitor even though he's stepping down from the his post after this term. He's retiring after 18 years in the House, where his tenure earned him the title "Dean of the House."

"I don't anticipate any curve balls, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't stay on top of it," he said.

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Information from: East Oregonian, http://www.eastoregonian.info

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