The state tear-down of Greystone’s massive Kirkbride Building is more than a blow to historians; it’s also dangerous to the general public, John Heubner, president of Preserve Greystone, told a rally on Sunday.
“Apparently, they have botched the execution of their own plan,” said Heubner, president of the volunteer organization, asserting that lead paint may be contaminating groundwater. He also said the 139-year-old building has not been sealed during removal of asbestos.
“The building has been wide open throughout. The roof’s open, the windows are open,” Heubner said. Supporters donned dust masks for a group photo in front of the Second Empire Victorian structure, which a contractor began tearing down in April.
Photos of support for Preserve Greystone were posted to social media on Sunday, with the hashtag #ThesePlacesMatter, by people at the Village at Grand Traverse Commons, a former Kirkbride hospital in Michigan that has been redeveloped; the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum in West Virginia, which was converted to a museum; and the former Danvers State Hospital, now a residential complex in Massachusetts.
Last month a state judge in Morristown shot down Preserve Greystone’s request to halt destruction of the building near the Parsippany-Morris Plains border. It was the third ruling to go against the organization.
The Northstar Contracting Group was hired to perform the $34 million demolition of 26 structures at the former hospital grounds, according to the Treasury department. The Kirkbride Building closed in 2008 after years of neglect. Seven developers have submitted proposals, but the state claims the building would prove too costly to renovate.
All of the demolition work is expected to be completed by December, according to Perone. The Kirkbride portion is expected to cost $3.55 million.
The state plans to design intrepretive signs for the grounds, perform an Historic American Building Survey documenting the Kirkbride building, and create a website about Greystone’s history. A brief timeline is here.
“The contractor has had conversations with the Morris County Park Commission in response to its request to secure certain elements of the Kirkbride Building envelope, such as the columns in the center core of the building and the stone veneer on the outside of the building. Northstar has agreed to donate to the county some of the stone veneer, two cast iron light poles and one of the smaller buildings. The county has agreed to pay to have the center columns removed for preservation.”
The state “didn’t even bother to come up with a plausible cover story,” Heubner said. Developers “were quite confident that they could take this building, fix it up with their own money, put it to good use, and make their money back. But the state wouldn’t talk to them.
“You will rarely see a more tangible or egregious example of government waste than the senseless demolition being carried out here… A plan like this never could have been hatched in the light of day. It was all decided behind closed doors, by an increasingly insular and self-serving community of so-called called public servants,” said Heubner.
Documents sought under the state’s Open Public Records Acts came back full of redactions, he said. “If this demolition plan was really in the public interest, I’m sure they wouldn’t have been so shy about accounting for their decision.”
Heubner was joined on Sunday by Robert Kirkbride, a descendant of 19th-century hospital designer Thomas Kirkbride who teaches architecture at the New School in New York. Jazz guitarist Grover Kemble, who ran Greystone’s art therapy program for years, sang at the demonstration.
Local mayors and the Morris County freeholders are complicit in the demolition, Heubner said:
“They have all failed to carry out the public will, failed to manage our public assets, and not one of them who has stayed silent on this issue deserves your vote.”
Bill Lescohier contributed to this report.