Preserve Greystone continues pressing the state as demolition deadline approaches

DATE WITH THE WRECKING BALL? Activists are trying to save the historic Greystone psychiatric hospital from demolition in early 2014. Photo courtesy of Preserve Greystone
DATE WITH THE WRECKING BALL? Activists are trying to save the historic Greystone psychiatric hospital from demolition in early 2014. Photo courtesy of Preserve Greystone

By Kirsten Eversen

Hoping to beat the wrecking ball, Preserve Greystone continues to press for redevelopment of the historic Kirkbride Building and adjacent Greystone Park property

But the nonprofit says state officials have become unresponsive as the clock is ticking. Demolition of the structure could happen as soon as early 2014.

Preserve Greystone works to save the historic Kirkbride buidling from demolition. Photo courtesy of Preserve Greystone
Preserve Greystone aims to save the historic Kirkbride building from demolition. Photo courtesy of Preserve Greystone

Six submissions from prospective redevelopers were received by the state in May, and all correspondence related to these “expressions of interest” was given to the state on Sept. 16.

Preserve Greystone has sued the Treasury Department, contending the state has not released all of the information related to these proposals.

“We think the taxpayers have a right to know what is being proposed, and how the state is responding,” Preserve Greystone President John Huebner said. “This is public property, after all, and taxpayer money is being spent to clean it up and study it.”

Victoria Zelin, coordinator of the Greystone Community Innovation proposal, expressed similar sentiments.

“We have a team with extensive adaptive reuse experience in exactly this kind of property, and a private investor group willing to finance up to $120 million to pay for the work. But we were never even contacted by the Treasury Department after we submitted our proposal,” she said in a statement last month.

A Treasury spokesman said the state has not been idle.

“The Treasury Department, as the manager of the State’s real estate holdings, has been actively and simultaneously exploring both redevelopment options for the Kirkbride building and the scope of work that would be required to safely demolish it and remediate any hazardous conditions it contains if redevelopment does not prove to be a viable option,” said Bill Quinn, director of communications for the department.

But weeks have passed with little communication between the state and Preserve Greystone, according to Adam McGovern, the organization’s acting secretary.

“We have heard nothing further from the State,” McGovern said. “We were told that the Labor Day weekend, Jewish holidays, etc. would delay some representatives’ availability.  Much time has passed since then, and follow-up email inquiries have not been answered.”

Preserve Greystone asserts that private investor options are a better deal for taxpayers, as state-funded demolition may cost up to $9 million for the Kirkbride building alone. With 60 other structures on the 740-acre site in Morris Plains and Parsippany, the process of remediation, demolition, and cleanup likely will be greater than $50 million.

On the other side, taxpayers already are paying for the Greystone property, a fact that serves as a motivator for the state to proceed with demolition.

“The state currently has no need for the structures, but it has been incurring ongoing costs for security and utility services to protect them from further damage – costs that are ultimately borne by taxpayers,” Quinn said.

The six remediation proposals include Green Center Acres, which would transform the Greystone property into a “working farm” with a ranch and family retreat, classroom, exhibit, laboratory and campus.

Auto Mart Inc. would preserve and restore the historical site as a tourist destination. Cross Properties aims to develop an apartment complex housing that maintains the historical significance of the Greystone Psychiatric Hospital.

Forest City also would like to create a housing complex, though its vision is one of high-end residences. The Greystone Community Innovation Team envisions an environmentally friendly village with residential and recreational facilities. Building & Land Technology Corp. would utilize the Kirkbride Building and the Greystone property as apartment units, town houses and offices.

The Kirkbride building crystallizes the debate between demolition and redevelopment. The iconic 137-year-old building memorializes an era that focused on the moral treatment of psychiatric patients. Though notorious in its later years for overcrowding and underfunding, the asylum served as a model of progressive treatment when opened in 1876.

Greystone was designed as a community, involving patients in physical work to create an aesthetically pleasing environment. It closed in 2008, transferring patients to a new facility nearby.

An important piece of history will be lost if the building is demolished, according to Preserve Greystone. “You don’t bury history, especially bad history, and pretend it never happened,” Huebner said. “Sweeping tons and tons of history under the rug (or in this case the lawn) is a really bad idea, unless you want to trip over it.”

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  1. I lived near the grounds as a kid, worked the wards and farm during my college years, and then worked there 25 years running the Art/Music Studio and entire Recreation Dept. This place is an amazing structure with a long and great history. I’ve offered my band to do any benefit concert the organization see’s fit to publicize this situation….Grover Kemble

  2. Decades ago I use to attend catholic mass in the Greystone Chapel within this historic and beautiful structure. And as a kid we used to explore the tunnels under the building only to realize the great sadness that patients experienced in these corridors that even then were in disrepair. Patients were jammed into benches with small televisions in the corner of the open rooms. But, I digress. This main building could be turned into a magnificent museum. It has a strangely familiar style and mystery as the Museum in Philadelphia.

  3. It was reported that a storage room in the basement contained thousands of patient documents such as examinations, death certificates, etc. Does anyone know if those documents where recovered and relocated, and if so where are they? I am sure there are many families in northern new jersey who would be interested in aquiring such personal historic documentaion including myself. I would appreciate any information about this subject. Thank you.

  4. Once known as the Queen of the Jersey Hills, Greystone could remain an asset. Does the State need yet another example of its ability to neglect and then destroy its precious resources.