For the past 15 years, the grounds of the former Kings Park Psychiatric Facility have lain dormant, sitting sentinel as a reminder of the benevolent spirit of the Kings Park community; a community that was literally built around the hospital and around taking care of some of society’s most vulnerable members.
And so it sits as a reminder of the past.
For over 100 years, Kings Park stretched out its arms and invited all those who needed care to come, and rest and become well. The original facilities, starting with St. Johnland Orphanage, and later the Kings County Asylum, were created as ‘working farms,’ a place where those over-stressed by city life and misunderstood mental conditions could come and recuperate.
They were welcomed.
Even later, when the state took over the hospital and the farms were closed and the hospital drastically turned from its original roots into an ‘institutional’ facility, Kings Park residents cared for their neighbors.
Now it’s time for the state to give back to the residents of Kings Park and all NYS residents. Granted, and to their credit, State representatives did the right thing and truly represented the wishes of the community by making this beautiful waterfront land into a state park.
But we all know it’s only a park in name.
Where’s the creativity? Where’s the plan? A plan centering on hiking, biking, kayaking, recreation? A plan to make use of salvageable buildings, the fields, the trails, the river and boat access. An initial request for public/private proposals, with committed state clean-up funds guaranteed, would be a good first step.
What about a public/private partnership; inviting in a hotel company (like national park lodges or resort), or a catering company (like at Sunken Meadow), a museum, or a sports company?
There are many financial reasons the state can give for why they haven’t properly taken care of this deteriorating, asbestos and lead filled site. But Long Island parks (including Jones Beach, Robert Moses, Hither Hills, Montauk, and Wildwood) are some of the most profitable parks in the state park system, and contribute huge amounts to Albany. Shouldn’t some of that come back to take care of this park?
The park is a potential liability as it stands. And it’s a shame to see these once-beautiful buildings, some built with ‘New Deal’ money during the height of the depression, crumbling, especially Building 93, the tallest, designed by architect William E. Haugaard.
Certainly pointing a finger of blame at Albany for leaving this mess in our backyard is easy. But there’s more to this.
Truthfully, knocking down all of those buildings would be like knocking down part of the spirit of the community, its foundation and heritage. It’s an emotional issue for many residents, and maybe a small part of the reason progress has stalled. A full-scale demolition of the site would be infuriating. A careful, sensitive, creative plan, with constructive public hearings, is the best idea ….now.