Luzerne County staffers didn’t know if anyone would show when they gathered at the former Valley Crest Nursing Home in Plains Township on Wednesday for an open house.
But around 10 people representing five potential buyers ended up appearing for tours of the sprawling 27,474-square-foot, county-owned building on 62.4 acres, which has been on and off the market since the private nursing-home operator moved into a new facility nearby in early 2010, officials said.
County Operational Services Division Head Tanis Manseau, one of several workers leading tours, said the attendance was a promising sign the county may receive several bids to purchase the property by the July 9 deadline.
Employees did not release the names of those who toured, saying information on prospective buyers is not public until bids are submitted.
“The county is pleased with the level of interest shown by these potential investors,” said county Manager Robert Lawton.
W-B Area School District
The Wilkes-Barre Area School District has identified Valley Crest as one of five sites for a possible new high school, but Manseau said district officials told county officials to proceed with their attempt to sell the property because the high school analysis was still in the infancy stage.
After walking the grounds and hallways of the former home, Manseau concluded the site with mountaintop views was a “real nice piece of property.” County officials have touted the site’s proximity to Interstate 81 and Wilkes-Barre Township shopping centers.
Most of the furniture and contents were cleared out of the home’s 13 wings during past auctions to generate revenue for the cash-strapped county.
“The building has been neglected, but it has potential,” Manseau said.
County Engineer Greg Parrs said he wants to see the property back in productive use and on the tax rolls. Prospective buyers could demolish portions of the sprawling building, which was erected in 1959, if they can’t identify a reuse requiring so much space, he said.
“It’s a good solid building,” Parrs said.
Parrs said he hopes zoning doesn’t become an issue. The land is zoned for conservation, and Parrs said he was frustrated when the township rejected the Salvation Army’s request for a zoning variance to put an adult rehabilitation center on the site in 2011.
The county’s past request to build a juvenile detention center at the site also was rejected.
Plains Township Commissioner Ron Filippini has said township officials envision professional commercial offices, a hotel or resort at the site.
The Salvation Army had offered $4.7 million for the property. No buyers surfaced when the property was listed for sale a second time. The current sales attempt stems from an effort to unload vacant, unused county properties.
The county’s request for proposals says offers for portions of the property won’t be accepted.
“It is the county’s intention to sell the property in its entirety and in its current condition or ‘as is,’ ” the solicitation says.
If the county receives any reasonable offers, they will be presented to County Council for its required approval, said county Chief Solicitor C. David Pedri.
The property was appraised at more than $4 million in 2010.
The 353-bed Valley Crest once thrived as the county’s home for the indigent and infirm, with the demand for rooms far exceeding the supply.
The county home also became a dumping ground for political hires interested in the decent pay and great health benefits, county officials have said.
Declining occupancy rates and money woes largely resulting from nursing home competition prompted county officials to start exploring a possible sale of the home around 2000.
After failed efforts to stop the home from sucking millions of dollars from the county’s general fund operating budget annually, commissioners decided in 2005 to become the first third-class county in the state to exit the nursing home business altogether.
Complete HealthCare Resources purchased the county’s licensed beds and occupied Valley Crest until its new home — Timber Ridge Health Care Center — was constructed on land purchased from the county.
While third-class counties such as Luzerne must provide care for the indigent, commissioners said they didn’t believe any Valley Crest residents met that definition anymore because Medicare and Medicaid covered care for those without the means to pay.