After decades of sitting empty, the second floor of the CB Wheeler building — otherwise known as the old hospital — is bustling with activity.
About two years ago, Randy and Rachel Collett purchased the space from Bruce Skiles, and they recently started remodeling it to serve as their residence in retirement.
“I’ve been gone a long time,” Collett said Thursday. “The kids are grown. It was time to come home.”
Collett grew up north of Marion. He noted that his father, Howard Collett, and uncles Mark and Steve Collett, were all born in the very building he and Rachel will live.
Collett graduated from Centre High School in 1970. Since then he has spent almost 34 years in the telecommunication industry working for a number of different companies including Southwestern Bell, AT&T, and most recently Century Link, where he was area director of sales, he said, until he retired at the end of 2013.
Rachel has been a substitute schoolteacher for the past 10 years, she said. They hope to move in from Jefferson City, Mo. by June 1.
Collett said that they opted not to try to put the building on a historic register because it would limit renovations.
Working with general contractor Garry Dunnegan, the Colletts have already made a lot of progress.
Outside, they added a metal staircase and a sturdy wood deck across the back of building, and on Thursday, crews were in the process of removing wood panels that covered the old second story windows facing Main St. and replacing them with energy efficient windows. They also plan to install a new roof.
Inside, the Colletts had to demolish every interior wall to accommodate their new floor plan, which includes three bedrooms, one bath, kitchen and dining, a living room with a fireplace, an office/library, and a utility room.
“The living room and library will be closest to Main St.” Rachel said. “And we think the kitchen is where the operating room used to be.”
They will use salvaged cherry trim and 6-inch baseboards to finish the interior, Rachel said. They also plan to repurpose the original five-panel doors by incorporating them into the library.
Crews were able to clear out all the old walls because four sturdy original trusses support the building.
TG Construction owner Terry Gilman said he was impressed with the quality of the wood as well as the condition of the building.
“Usually in these old buildings like this you see uneven walls and get a lot of water and termite damage,” he said. “But with the exception of a few patch jobs in the floor, everything was pretty square and straight and in good shape.”
Collett said they felt lucky because there were not any serious structural problems. They were also able to keep the original wood floors.
“This building was built in the 1890s and we think the wood used in the floor is yellow pine from trees that were about 200 years old,” Collett said. “If you look at the grain pattern in floor you see a lot of lines per inch. That means it’s probably old growth. You don’t see tight grains like that anymore.”
For now, the Colletts plan to wall off the stairway to the ground floor that used to connect directly to the sidewalk.
Collett also wants to research more specifics about the building’s history.
“We heard it housed a soil conservation office in the mid-’50s after the hospital moved up the hill in ’51 or ’52,” he said. “At some point it was a drapery manufacturing business. But I think it was last occupied in the mid-’60s. If that’s true, that means it hasn’t hypothetically been used in about 50 years.”
Once the Colletts settle in, they have plans to get involved in the community and dabble in farming.