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Councilman Calls Hospital Expansion a "Backroom Deal"

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City Councilman Bruce Tyler charges that Bon Secours officials misled the public about their plans to expand into the former Westhampton Elementary School.

At two city meetings last week, Tyler reported that an administrator from the Catholic-run hospital system told a gathering of West End residents Oct. 17 that Bon Secours had no immediate plans for the school.

Less than a week later, the city and Bon Secours announced a $5,000-a-year lease agreement for the property, at Libbie and Patterson avenues, as part of the deal to bring the Redskins summer training camp to Richmond.

Tyler and some of his 1st District residents think plans were kept secret to avoid having to deal with neighbors who are concerned about the development.

"I respect the fact that Bon Secours is a business and they may be legally in the right to do this," Tyler says. "At the same time you don't put out your shingle saying you're compassionate, caring and community oriented when you sit there and do this kind of backroom business deal."

Bon Secours spokeswoman Charlotte Perkins says the hospital has been up front about its interest in the Westhampton school. "Senior administrators have indicated since 2009 that Bon Secours has had an interest in developing this site," she says. "We have made it very clear."

Bon Secours long eyed the property for expansion. For just as long, neighborhood advocates worried about the fate of the building and, eager to have a say in the outcome, kept close tabs on new developments. The school has been vacant since 2009 when Richmond Community High School moved.

As for the administrator's comments in the week before the deal was announced, Perkins says she doesn't know what was said, but suggested that the Bon Secours employee in question, Anne Knapps, wouldn't have been part of the confidential negotiations with the city.

Regardless of who knew what when, with City Council's approval last week of a resolution backing the Redskins deal, Tyler says residents' input on how the Westhampton property is developed will be negligible.

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