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Everything from beds to a Steinway piano will be auctioned off at the old Erie County nursing home in Alden today as the facility prepares to close its doors for good.

But what won’t be auctioned off are the buildings. Those will soon go dark – leaving some to worry about what will become of the sprawling campus that takes up nearly a quarter mile on Walden Avenue.

“If we could find a qualified user, we would be all for that,” said Alden Deputy Supervisor Bill Weber. “We don’t want that building, almost 600,000 square feet, sitting vacant on one of our main thoroughfares going through the town.”

That’s roughly the size of three Super Walmarts.

There are other challenges besides the size. Built between the 1920s and 1970s, the interconnected buildings likely have asbestos and lead paint and need a considerable amount of work to bring them up to modern standards. Not to mention the campus sits across from the county’s Correctional Facility.

“It was built with a specific purpose, to house elderly people,” said Legislator Terrence D. McCracken, who had been advocating for a plan for the empty campus. “There are not a lot of developers interested in retrofitting something to fit that building based on the way it was constructed.”

The last residents moved out of the nursing home last month when Erie County Medical Center opened a new, $103 million long-term care facility in Buffalo. Erie County will take ownership of the complex sometime next month and will begin the process of draining pipes and taking other steps to secure the buildings that could p fencing off the land.

After that, decisions will have to be made about whether to tear down the buildings or to try to find another use.

“A demolition would probably have to come over time because of the sheer cost to demolish a building of that size,” said Daniel Rizzo, deputy county public works commissioner.

Rizzo said estimates of the cost of demolition have been between $5 million and $10 million. County officials have considered the possibility of tearing down portions of the campus during the next five years.

Erie County agreed to take possession of the buildings in Alden under a broad deal struck in late 2009 with ECMC that paved the way for the construction of a new long-term care facility in Buffalo and eliminated a county obligation to cover losses at the hospital.

“This transaction was part of a larger settlement agreement in which we took over, frankly, hundreds of millions in costs over the next 20 years that the county would have previously been obligated to pay,” said ECMC spokesman Thomas J. Quatroche Jr.

But what will become of the property has been a dilemma for Alden officials. Weber said town officials have explored everything from enticing a private nursing home to take over the facility to creating an agricultural food hub at the site.

There hasn’t been much interest yet. But Weber said the land – especially if the buildings are torn down – could become a natural extension of the Walden Avenue business district.

It’s one of the few areas of town that has public water and sewer systems.

There’s another concern for town officials. If a plan isn’t in place once the power is shut off, the options could become even more slim.

“You start shutting down these huge older buildings and they start deteriorating very rapidly,” said Fred K. Heinle, director of economic development for the Alden Economic Development Committee. “Then what we see is the only option is demolition.”

Heinle believes that the location and size of the property make it ideal for an agricultural resource center that would include a “regional food hub” for the distribution of locally and regionally grown and produced food.

But first, the hospital must finish its work to vacate the building, and that will include auctioning off hundreds of items once used to operate the home.

The auction, which will open with a preview at 8:30 a.m. followed by the auction at 10 a.m., will be held by Cash Realty & Auctions at the former nursing home, 11580 Walden Ave., Alden.

email: djgee@buffnews.com