By John Huebner, president, Preserve Greystone
Greystone’s Kirkbride Building is no ordinary structure. Kirkbride buildings of this type are examples of some of the best architecture this country has ever seen.
Kirkbride asylum buildings in far worse condition than Greystone have been successfully revitalized in other states without any expenditure of taxpayer money. These exceptional structures were brought back from decades of terrible neglect purely with private money and tax breaks. They now serve as popular community centers, mixed use commercial/residential villages, and tourist attractions.
This proven formula of private investment and tax breaks was rejected here in New Jersey, however, for reasons that have yet to be adequately explained. Several experienced, well funded firms expressed interest in the Greystone project, but there has been zero follow up from the State.
At 3 pm on May 13, 2015, Preserve Greystone will ask
Superior Court Judge Stephan Hansbury
in Morristown to halt demolition of the Kirkbride Building.
Instead of taking the private investment route, the State chose to spend $35 million of borrowed taxpayer money on a demolition contract for Greystone. The reasons given to justify this course are quite frankly insulting to the intelligence of informed taxpayers.
The State has trumpeted potential “funding gaps” that private re-developers might face, but the firms expressing interest in the Greystone project were undeterred by these hypothetical projections. In any event, the State is spending twice as much of our money on demolition as the amount of the potential funding gaps they cite. So much for fiscal responsibility.
The State has also tried to justify its decision to demolish the Greystone Kirkbride by citing “Morris County’s need for open space,” but it is hard to imagine a less appropriate and more costly locale for “open space” than the site of a massive and exquisite stone building. For that kind of money we could build islands in Lake Hopatcong.
Recently, we heard from the Governor himself that the building “is not universally beloved” because of its history. This is the worst reason of all to waste this public heirloom.
The idea that Greystone should be buried and forgotten is held by a small minority. By pandering to this view, the Kirkbride’s untimely destruction only feeds the unfortunate stigma still associated with mental illness.
If Greystone’s history makes us uncomfortable, the proper response is an examination of our attitudes towards mental illness and its treatment, not obliteration of the edifice that reminds us of it.
John Huebner is president of the all volunteer nonprofit Preserve Greystone.