Bon Secours Virginia Health System plans to renovate the Westhampton School to house the health system's College of Nursing and School of Imaging, officials announced Thursday.
Plans for the dilapidated buildings in Richmond's West End have been uncertain since 2009, when Richmond Community High School moved off the campus.
The two school structures on the 6-acre property at Patterson and Libbie avenues were built in 1917 and 1930 and are joined by a walkway.
"We've been working on this for several years. We first approached the mayor's office five years ago," said Peter J. Bernard, CEO of Bon Secours Virginia Health System.
"Our hope was to be a significant partner and make that (property) a piece of the St. Mary's campus, which borders a lot of Libbie Ave-
nue, Patterson and Maple.
"We would like to take our historic School of Nursing and ... transfer that college from where it's at over on Windsor (Business) Park on Parham and bring those 400 or 500 students to this organization," Bernard said.
Approximately 4 acres of the city-owned property were leased to Bon Secours as part of a controversial sponsorship package for the Washington Redskins training complex on West Leigh Street.
In the deal, Bon Secours paid $6.4 million for naming rights and rental of the Redskins facility when it is not being used by the team. The city had to front the $10 million it cost to build the training camp, which opened for the first time this summer and drew record crowds to see the team practice.
And as part of the deal, Bon Secours received a 60- year lease with the city on the Westhampton School property, which the hospital had been eyeing for expansion. The Westhampton School property borders Bon Secours' St. Mary's Hospital campus and a new 14,000-square-foot Bon Secours patient and family guest house being constructed at 1100 Libbie Ave.
The deal brokered by the city's economic development department also required the health system to expand Richmond Community Hospital, a Bon Secours hospital in the city's economically distressed East End.
Bernard said Bon Secours had the authority to demolish the Westhampton buildings and bring retail activities to the location.
"Our initial thoughts were for this phase we are not going to do any of that," he said. "We are going to keep the building intact and modify and upgrade it."
Bernard said Bon Secours will have to secure special use permits from the city and will also pursue historic tax credits to offset the cost of the renovations. Officials were unable to provide estimates of the cost of the project, which is expected to take three years to complete.
Work on the structures will include removing asbestos and upgrading the buildings to be handicap-accessible. The structures will be renovated into classroom, laboratory and office space for the nursing college.
3North Architects and Odell Associates did structural analyses and historical review of the property. The property developer is Reynolds Development.
"We are starting now slowly to upgrade some of the landscaping," said Bernard, who said he was told there are 897 broken window panes in the school.
Jon Baliles, who represents Richmond's 1st District on the City Council, described the proposal as the "ultimate in adaptive reuse."
"It's going to bring a lot of activity, a lot of jobs, a lot of career opportunities for people that can now come to this campus," Baliles said at Thursday's announcement.
Nadja Gutowski, president of the Westhampton Neighborhood Association, approved of the plans.
"They came up with a plan that is very welcom ing to the neighborhood and wonderful for the community," Gutowski said. "I think the neighborhood is pleased to hear that the buildings are preserved. I think the neighborhood is pleased to hear that there (will be) students, so a number of people ... potentially will be shopping at the shops, eating at the establishments here in this area."
Gutowski said a lingering question for nearby residents is where the city will relocate the playground on the property.
"As the only playground in this part of the city other than one (in the Fan District), we are awaiting word from Jon Baliles as to what they are going to do with the playground." she said. The playground is closing within the month, she said.
Baliles said a site for a new playground has not been chosen but that the city Parks and Recreation Department is expected to determine that before the end of the month.
The Bon Secours Memorial College of Nursing was founded in 1961 as the Richmond Memorial School of Nursing. The school awarded nursing diplomas until 2012, when it became a four-year program offering a bachelor of science in nursing degree. The school, currently located at 8550 Magellan Parkway, off East Parham Road near U.S. 301/Chamberlayne Road, has 24 full-time faculty members and 409 enrolled students.
Other nursing programs in the area include Virginia Commonwealth University's bachelor's, master's and Ph.D. nursing degree programs, as well as associate degree and diploma nursing programs at community colleges and other schools that prepare students to become licensed practical nurses and registered nurses.
TLsmith@timesdispatch.com (804) 649-6572