Update: Fergus Falls mental hospital
Thursday's lengthy post, inspired by the book The Architecture of Madness, included background information on the Fergus Falls Regional Treatment Center, formerly knows as the state mental hospital, including links to a pair of radio stories I aired on the building in 2004.
Today, I talked with Wayne Waslaski, Minnesota Department of Administration planning director, about ongoing efforts to save the structure. The state had originally planned to remove its chemical dependency and mental health programs from the Kirkbride tower of the Fergus Falls Regional Treatment Facility (pictured) in 2005. The mental health program has vacated, but alcohol addiction treatment remains. By the summer of 2008, that will be gone too.
When the state leaves, it won't be paying to heat the building in the winter. Without heat, the 500,000 square foot structure, part of which dates back to the 19th century, could deteriorate rapidly.
So the clock is ticking on saving this historic architectural landmark.
"It's a difficult challenge," Waslaski said. "There's probably not any idea we haven't looked at."
On Friday afternoon, Waslaski was driving back to the Twin Cities from a meeting in Fergus Falls about the building's future. He says economic development experts, city residents and preservationists have suggested many possible uses for the building and surrounding grounds, including a destination resort, golf course and hotel complex, offices, condos/apartments and even a prison. But none of those ideas has caught on.
Historic structures, especially sprawling complexes, often languish unused for years before redevelopment begins. When thinking about the Kirkbride's future, Waslaski is reminded of the Sears building in south Minneapolis. At 1 million square feet, Sears, now reborn as the Midtown Exchange, didn't bounce back without government funding, a major tenant, a nearby hotel, apartments/condos and a vibrant retail component.
While it's a regional hub, Fergus Falls lacks similar economic vibrancy. "What's the market draw?" Waslaski asks. "We're not looking at a huge retail model for [the building]."
The Preservation Alliance of Minnesota placed the Fergus Falls Regional Treatment Center on its list of most endangered buildings in 2004. Here's betting the group adds the building to its list again in 2008.
To listen to an eerie two-part series on the Fergus Falls state mental hospital buildings, subscribe to the Building Minnesota podcast at iTunes. Or listen online at the PodLounge.
Or listen here:
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And here, for part 2:
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