Opponents of Greystone demolition question safety procedures

Demonstrators gathered outside the doomed Kirkbride Building. Photo by Bill Lescohier.
Demonstrators gathered outside the doomed Kirkbride Building. Photo by Bill Lescohier.
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Video: John Heubner questions safety of Greystone tear-down. Video by Bill Lescohier.

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.

UPDATE:
State Treasury Department Spokesman Joseph Perone said all remediation regulations have been followed.
“The contractor has conducted all remediation, including removal of asbestos, in accordance with applicable construction codes,” Perone said on Monday.
Demonstrators gathered outside the doomed Kirkbride Building. Photo by Bill Lescohier.
Demonstrators gathered outside the doomed Kirkbride Building. Photo by Bill Lescohier.

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.

Perone added:

“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.”                                  

 

Photos by Bill Lescohier.

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.

A show of support from the Village at Traverse City Commons, formerly a Kirkbride-style psychiatric hospital. Photo: #ThesePlacesMatter
A show of support from the Village at Traverse City Commons, formerly a Kirkbride-style psychiatric hospital. Photo: #ThesePlacesMatter

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.”

A message of solidarity from the former Danvers State Hospital in Massachusetts. Photo: #ThesePlacesMatter
A message of solidarity from the former Danvers State Hospital in Massachusetts. Photo: #ThesePlacesMatter

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.

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3 COMMENTS

  1. The entire situation going on at Greystone never had to happen. If people would read and become educated on the decision to demolish Greystone you would clearly see the taxpayers of NJ have been dupped and lied too. The 35 K to demolish Greystone is on your backs. That is Gov. Christie’s definition of ” cost effective”. Read the 2013 Feasibility report that the state had done for 25K. It says plain as day “demolition not required”. Read the 7 proposals made by contractors, all with plans to reuse the building and two of the proposals had included 10 million dollars toward the cost of building a new school. The revenue that this” rehapped” historic building could have been limitless But, lt was deemed not viable. Yet, they went through the motions (in 2013) of making it look like they were following all the rules with honest interest. There is a file from December 21,2011 that already had the plans to take this beautiful piece of history down. He never intended to do anything to the building except destroy it. I can understand how not everyone will see the beauty in Greystone……..but, how can you deny the 140 year old history ? This building is a huge part of NJ history. Thousands of people passed through those doors, many are our loved ones and families. There stories never told, now, there deaths are excluded. Regardless, of what Mr. Perone has stated. Remediation work at Greystone has been lax at best. The demolition company has been fined 54K by OSHA for unsafe practices. Nothing has been sealed as far as abestos removal has been concerned. There are hundreds of pictures of how this has been going…..you can see the lead paint and abestos mixed in with the rubble and used for fill in the tunnels beneath the buildings. Why has there not been an inspection by the EPA? All this to get that building down so Morris County can plant grass seed. I have been told that there are soccer and ball fields up there……knowing about the careless way this has been handled…….do you really want your kids playing ball there? To the person who said “the horse died”, No, the horse didn’t die….he was killed!

  2. The center entrance building at the is just beautiful. It would also make a great museum or monument to what was at the time it was built, the largest building in the country. The history of our state’s caring for mentally ill people unable to take care of themselves happened here. I wish they would leave it standing for people to see.

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