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Wrecking ball hits former Snoqualmie Valley hospital

Chuck Hinzman sweeps up debris at the former Nelems Memorial Hospital building in Snoqualmie. The Snoqualmie Tribe demolished the site to make way for elder housing. - Seth Truscott / Snoqualmie Valley Record
Chuck Hinzman sweeps up debris at the former Nelems Memorial Hospital building in Snoqualmie. The Snoqualmie Tribe demolished the site to make way for elder housing.
— image credit: Seth Truscott / Snoqualmie Valley Record

The former Nelems Memorial Hospital in Snoqualmie has been demolished to make way for Snoqualmie Tribe elder housing.

Tribal Administrator Matt Mattson said the 1947 structure offered too many challenges for a successful renovation.

Contractor Bubba’s Trucking of Carnation will clear the site, located east of Snoqualmie Casino on Southeast North Bend Way, within a week.

“It was far more expensive to try to remodel it than to tear it down and rebuild new,” Mattson said.

The tribe’s $1.4 million project would build four housing units for seniors. Construction begins this summer.

Preference will be given to low-income elders. To reside there, elders should apply to the tribe’s Housing Committee.

The tribe purchased the Nelems site in 2005.

“By the time we took ownership, you could barely tell it was an old hospital, except for the morgue in the basement,” Mattson said.

When the tribe originally purchased the building, it was thought that some parts of the building, such as the foundation, could be saved. But that strategy was discarded.

The building was not in good shape, Mattson said.

“I don’t think it was functional for any use whatsoever,” he said.

The tribe had to remove asbestos from the building last year.

Bubba’s Trucking owner Chuck Hinzman said that some parts of the building were sound and sturdy, but the side walls were rotten.

“I can’t pull the stucco off the side walls,” he said. “I’m afraid the building will collapse.”

Demolition crews found the hospital’s old morque under the floor. They’ll have to jackhammer its five-foot-thick concrete walls to bits.

Much of the materials, including wood beams, brick and plaster, will be recycled or reused, Hinzman said.

Building history

Nelems was a precursor to Snoqualmie Valley Hospital, which opened in 1983.

Superintendent Bernice Nelems built the 12,000 square foot hospital in 1948 for $32,000, according to a Jan. 1, 1948, Valley Record article. The building replaced Snoqualmie Falls Hospital at the Weyerhaeuser mill.

The building was named Nelems Hospital as a memorial to Nelems’ mother, father and sister. The Nelems family operated it until 1969 when it was sold to a group of physicians and re-named Nelems Memorial Hospital.

The hospital was where a generation of Snoqualmie Valley residents were treated, and where a generation of Valley babies were born.

When it opened, the building had 23 rooms — five fewer than today’s hospital — as well as a solarium, living room, surgery, kitchen, and quarters for staff in the basement.

“For 1948, this was a small but modern hospital,” said Snoqualmie Valley Historical Museum member Gloria McNeely.

Six of her grandchildren were born there, and McNeely’s son Denny was treated for a compound leg fracture during the last football game of his senior high school career. She recalled the care there as exemplary.

While noting that the building was never a candidate for historic registry listing, McNeely expressed some regret that the building could not find a continuing role in the elder housing plans.

The Snoqualmie Tribe has also executed a purchase agreement for the current Snoqualmie Valley Hospital, located on Ethan Wade Way in Snoqualmie. The tribe is negotiating an extension on its payment schedule to King County Hospital District 4, asking for a minimum monthly payment plan. The tribe plans to turn Snoqualmie Valley Hospital into a tribal health center.

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