PROVIDENCE The January death of a high school student has prompted town firefighters to call for the old county infirmary — known in some youthful circles as the “haunted hospital” — to be sealed up or torn down.
Noelle Johnson died in a traffic accident just down the road, and firefighters believe she and friends were in this sparsely populated town on the edge of the Adirondacks only because of the empty old building.
The one-time infirmary on Bills Road has stood unused for years and has been broken into many times, gaining Internet fame for the creepy atmosphere inside.
“They think going there is fun, scary, and a party spot,” said Leah Kane, Johnson’s aunt and a Saratoga County sheriff’s dispatcher. “It is unsafe for those who enter.”
The century-old institutional building’s unwanted fame has been a growing concern to local officials. Videos said to have been shot there can be found on YouTube.
It is thought — though not proven — that Johnson, a 17-year-old Ballston Spa High School student, had visited the building with friends the evening of Jan. 7. That night, she was killed not far from the infirmary when the pickup truck in which she was a passenger went off Barkersville Road while passing another vehicle at high speed.
The driver is facing a manslaughter charge, and the town’s volunteer firefighters said the youths wouldn’t have been in Providence if not for the attraction of the old building.
“The addressing of this issue is long overdue,” said John Borowski, a commissioner of the Providence Fire District, who was among about 20 firefighters to attend a recent Town Board meeting.
Providence Fire Chief David Atwell said he won’t order firefighters into the building even in an emergency, because of asbestos and hazardous conditions be believes exist inside.
“As long as that remains there and is accessible, it’s another accident waiting to happen,” said David Houston, the first assistant fire chief.
Town Supervisor John Collyer said owner Bruce Houran, who lives in Florida, has been contacted and has agreed to secure the building from entry by early April.
Firefighters, however, note that plywood boarding over doors, fencing, and other measures taken in the past haven’t kept people out of the building. Many windows are also broken.
“It really needs to be either bricked up or torn down,” Atwell said.
The two-story brick building has had a varied history as a health care facility.
It opened in 1912 as a county-owned institution for the treatment of people suffering from tuberculosis, the bacterial lung infection that was common and often fatal before the development of antibiotics. It was believed mountain air was good for patients, and TB hospitals were built in many remote Adirondack Mountain locations, including the Providence site.
The county ran it as a TB sanitorium until 1960, when the disease had largely been eradicated. It then served as the county infirmary — its public nursing home — until 1979, when the current Maplewood Manor infirmary opened in Ballston Spa.
The county in the early 1980s sold it to Houran, who had plans to develop a drug treatment center or other health care-related facility there. Nothing came of those plans.