constructionOne of the ideas making its rounds around Washington (again) is a new stimulus package dedicated towards improving infrastructure. Taking this opportunity of high unemployment to rebuild and expand roads, public hospitals, schools, and so on. As is often the case, it seems to me that the devil is in the details with something like this, though it’s one of the less objectionable ideas I’ve heard. One of the things I’ve noticed in small-city and small-town America, though, is the building of grand new things without much regard for what happens to the old.

In Colosse, near the Capitol district, is an old football stadium that nobody has used for years. For various reasons, it has a real soft spot in the heart of Colosseans everywhere and so nobody will state the obvious, that it needs to be torn down. Instead, idea after idea comes up about how it can be converted into something, but idea after idea is shot down. If they wanted to create a new superstar convention center, they could simply build a new one for less money than converting a stadium into a convention center would cost. No conversion necessary.

In Beck County, Deseret, where I lived for a couple of years, they were working on building a new hospital. Or rather, combining the two existing hospitals into one huge one by expanding one of the two campuses. One of the big questions, though, was what happens to the old hospital? It was a question that few actually asked. There was the assumption, I think, that Beck State University would ultimately buy it because it was right across the street from the campus that had an expanding student body. But somewhere along the way the university determined that it didn’t have the money. I don’t know what ever happened with any of that as we left the state and I think the last time we went back the “old” hospital was still in use. I was always more impressed with it than I was the new (to-be-expanded) facility. The former was on a hill and had some great views out of the building. The latter was on the top of a hill, which was cool, but was laid out pretty flat like a giant high school. Obviously, these are not the things on which decisions should be made, but I thought it a real shame that such a nice looking building might be demolished to make room for… what, exactly?

There are a couple of cases going on in Callie, Arapaho, where I now live. First is another hospital that they’re building down the street from the old. I’ve been reading the Callie Register week in and week out and nothing has been mentioned about what’s going to happen with the old facilities. As far as buildings go, it’s not as impressive as the hospital in Deseret and I guess it wouldn’t be a big deal if it went down. Hard to imagine anything else happening to it given the excess real estate available other than it sitting dormant, as is the case with a couple of old grain factories (at least that’s what I think they are) in town. There’s an old warehouse that for a while was a night club of sorts that is being torn down.

And last on this list is the old elementary school, which was replaced when a new one was built a little while back. Right now it’s serving as a Head Start center, though that requires only a portion of the building and everyone seems to be scratching their heads about what to do with it. The local conservative letter-writer to the Register suggests that it needs to be sold cause the government doesn’t need it and the government should be cut… but sold to whom?

Meanwhile, new stuff is regularly being built. There seems to be something sad about the constant need to build new things. We have a real attraction to new. Back home, there was Phillippi High School, which was considered by most to be the dregs of a school compared to South Phillippi and East Phillippi, the district’s other two high schools. They tore down PHS and rebuilt everything on the same grounds, and despite having the same lackluster teachers, the same lower-class student body, and the same everything else… suddenly everyone in the Phillippi district was petitioning to transfer into the new (old) school. To some, I guess, it really is as if the date of construction is what really matters. It’s been a decade now since all of that happened and as I hear it nobody is anxious to have their kids go to that school anymore.

I guess there’s something a little sad to me about out with the old and in with the new. Is it really so impossible to retrofit older buildings with better amenities? (easier, one would imagine, than converting a football stadium into a convention center)? Out here in Arapaho the land is so cheap that I guess it always makes sense to just build something new rather than take advantage of real estate that has already been built. In Beck County there were always new hotels being build, meanwhile a really cool and historic hotel downtown, the Fritz was vacant. The people wringed their hands about this historic place just kind of going to pot, but when people would come to Fort Beck for this reason or that, they would always make reservations with the chains and the chains always had their own building models in mind and with real estate being so affordable they could just build a new one on the outskirts of town. Nobody who wasn’t already in town knew how cool The Fritz is in comparison. If they care, which they might not since most hotel rooms are about a place to land your head at night.

We are one of the wealthiest nations in the world, if not the outright wealthiest. I guess it’s a biproduct of this that we can always afford to build new rather than make do with the old. Of course, we’re also not as wealthy a country as we sometimes think (think our national debt and lack of personal savings and banking industry vulnerability). It’s not unlike with cars, which I will comment on soon. Of course, sometimes it just is the case that the latter is cheaper than the former. Made moreso the case by all of the building requirements that these old structures would need to be retrofitted with if they were to be reopened. I was thinking of this the other day in Redstone when I was admiring a duplex is pretty awful shape that obviously hadn’t been lived in for quite some time. I don’t even know if such a building could be moved into and the costs of renovation probably would exceed the costs of tearing it down and building something new.

Living in the world of technology, it’s something that I can appreciate to some degree. A laptop breaks down, if you add together the amount of money it would take to find replacement parts and the time it would take and how much my time is worth… I can get a new laptop for much cheaper. Of course, technology always gets cheaper and better. I don’t know how much Moore’s Law applies to construction.

The fact that we spend more on health care than anyone else for less remarkable results is the subject of much discussion and recrimination. There are some things where our health care really does excel or stand out. One thing that amazes foreign doctors that come here is how much nicer our facilities are. As much like a hotel as a hospital. Whether this is a great use of our health care dollars or not I cannot really say.

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