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May 19, 2017 Steve Peck, Publisher

Those who are revitalizing the old hospitalsite deserve congratulations and thanks

If you haven't been by the old Riverton Memorial Hospital site in east Riverton for awhile, it's worth the trip. The lot is being transformed, and community minded volunteers are playing a huge role in making it happen.

We had the happy job a few days ago of publishing some photographs and an accompanying story on page 1 of The Ranger, calling attention to a day-long volunteer effort that put the finishing touches on two new houses built there by Habitat for Humanity.

The organization has built several other houses on the four-block square between 12th and 13th streets that once was the proud location of the original Riverton Memorial - and then the sorry resting place for the abandoned, crumbling hospital wreckage after the new RMH went up on West Sunset.

That was more than 30 years ago, and for at least 20 of those years the vacated brick building dominated the whole neighborhood, looking worse and worse by the day. Finally, after more than a couple revitalization efforts had failed, the increasingly decrepit hulk was torn down.

It would have been nice if some new use for the structure could have been found, but other than illicit paintball arena, drug-dealing hideout and graffiti venue, nothing ever took.

Things are so much better now. Charlie Wilson's Soldier's House, providing needed services for veterans and their families, was among the first to take the plunge. Today it's a handsome little facility that "introduces" the drive-by public to the repurposed property.

Habitat for Humanity stepped in with a big commitment as well, demonstrating repeatedly the value of assisted construction for lower-income residents who agree to do a portion of the work themselves in exchange for the chance to own their own homes.

That's what we photographed and wrote about last week. The builders, the homeowners and a small army of willing helpers converged on the two new houses, rolling out sod, putting up the security fence, picking up paintbrushes, and generally spending a day getting to work to make the places livable.

Most people can't build a house, but just about anyone can help unload a truck, carry lumber, roll out sod, and handle a paint roller on a flat surface. The new owners satisfied their "sweat equity" obligation, and then some, with those simple chores, and they had a lot of help doing it.

It hasn't been the easiest thing in the world, but redeveloping the site turned out to be possible after all. On the volunteer work day there wasn't any difference between the staffers from a half-dozen commercial businesses and the helpers from Riverton Rotary and Wind River Job Corps, just the business and club contributions meshed with cooperative assistance from Riverton High School and the City of Riverton, all with Habitat For Humanity leading the way.

The old hospital occupied a big space, and there remains plenty of room for more houses on the spot. They will come. There is talk, eventually, of preserving a central green space in the middle of the property for use by the growing number of residents. That sounds nice, too. The unsightly, worrisome premises are being reinvented. Those who are accomplishing it are doing matchless community service, and they deserve both congratulations and thanks.

As each house goes up, the area's unpleasant past as an eyesore recedes further. Today, it's starting to look like a neighborhood.

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