Opinion: It’s Time For Well Thought Out Action at the Kings Park Psychiatric Facility

A reader shares her opinion on the Kings Park Psychiatric Facility.

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.


Kristen Matejka

Linda Henninger April 09, 2011 at 11:10 PM
Many residents of this community, such as members of the Nissequogue River State Park Foundation and the Kings Park Civic Association, along with many others, continue to work diligently to have a master plan created for this property. Senator Flanagan has come out and called for one. I can say with confidence he is working towards achieving this goal. Once the State agrees to move forward with the creation of a plan, meetings will be held with the public, just like the recent one for Sunken Meadow State Park. It would help if residents called their local State representatives and voiced their desire to see this process move more quickly. Many groups, such as the Kings Park Neighbors' Association, worked long and hard to see this property protected. It was protected when it was put into Parks and now we all have to continue to work together to see this property re developed in a positive way, a way that will enhance our community. Linda Henninger www.theparkadvocate.org
kptree April 10, 2011 at 02:12 AM
Wow- what a terrific post! No disparaging of the patients, acknowledgement of the dept KP owes to the hospital (building the community, keeping it afloat during periods of economic distress like the Depression, bad times in the '70s, downturn in the 1980's) and calling for NY State to make it right. It was so refreshing to read this post after reading the trolls' views in other articles.
Sean Lehmann April 10, 2011 at 03:05 AM
Thank you for the article Kristen. The civic associations in Kings Park have been very active in protecting the park/former hospital property. Linda Henninger is right. The next step is a master plan for the property. Your idea of establishing public/private partnerships is exactly what the Nissequogue State Park Foundation has been advocating for since its creation. Many of your ideas are included in a conceptual plan (vision) the foundation released a couple of years ago. You can view these plans here: http://www.kingsparkcivic.org/letters/parkplan309landscape.pdf
King Pedlar April 10, 2011 at 02:09 PM
For years there have been talks, meetings from various civic groups, writing to our state senators, assemblymen, etc. But we all know it comes down to money, which the state doesn't have. I'm just happy it can stay open as a state park, and not having the threat of another NRSP closing. Here's hoping... KFP
Linda Henninger April 10, 2011 at 05:13 PM
On the issue of money, I inquired a while back and was told by State Parks that they do not have to have the money to implement a master plan before they create one. To prepare a master plan for this Park probably costs around $200,000 (maybe less). There is the money to do this as the 25 million dollars Senator Flanagan secured for the clean up of this property was rolled over into next year's budget. Although the amount of money to clean this property is substantial, (but not as much as the State's recent estimate, as this was not only a no bid estimate, it included buildings that will have already been removed) creating the master plan is the first step in what will be a fruitful, albeit long, process. It was the entire community requesting this property be protected for it to happen and it will take the entire community requesting the master plan process move more quickly for it to happen. Call and write, call and write...
Linda Henninger June 01, 2011 at 12:05 AM
It was the state that polluted the property, it will be the state that remediates it. The insiders that I know, through the many years of being involved with this property, understand this and are working towards this goal. I do think that a bond is an interesting idea, but with just a little twist, it would be a statewide bond, as it was a state hospital and is still state land. As a matter of fact, Senator Flanagan floated the idea of such a bond several years ago. As I recall, it would have benefited all state parks, maybe that should be revisited. Glad to know that you think I'm a nice lady, although you might be wrong about that too. Linda Henninger
Frank Mercuri June 01, 2011 at 01:17 AM
I think that all the commentary regarding the park should be directed in what it is,parkland. There is activity taking place in the park. What all need to remember is that the property is a park with the exception of that portion which will remanin under the jurisdiction of the Department of Hospitals. Rome was not built in a day nor was Kings park. It will take patience, time money and constant monitoring of the intentions of the NY state parks Department. The NRSPF and the KPCA is doing just that. Bernadette Castro then parks commissioner was invited by the Kings Park Civic Association to view the property and was in awe as is the new Parks commissioner. Money is tight and priorities will come first. We have a park. Use it, walk in it, play in it . There are buildings that eventually will under a masterplan, suit developemt for various activities. Treat this land as it should be treated, that it is a park and no longer address it as the KPPC property. Think positive,it is a park, it is a park, it is a park.
Sean Lehmann June 01, 2011 at 03:43 AM
Hi Matt. I have a few questions for you: Could you tell me the tax benefit that the Kings Park School District gets with the former hospital remaining parkland? If the parkland was to be alienated, could you tell me how much development would be needed to not only pay for the remediation costs, but to also make such a development "tax positive"? Could you tell me what the ramifications of this development would have on the Kings Park School District? Could you tell me what effect this proposed development would have on traffic, roads and infrastructure? Could you tell me how many studies were done on the former hospital property and what type of development plans had been discussed before the property was made a state park? Could you tell me why you think that the civic associations did not look at all options for the property before they started pushing for the property to be deemed parkland? Do you really think that they didn't do their homework? Can you tell me what state officials you meet with on a regular basis to discuss this property? Could you tell me why you can't use your last name? Can you tell me that you really have all your facts? Can you tell me what state parks official has told you that this property is not really parkland? Can you tell me that you actually believe that parkland cannot have some types of development? Can you tell me if you have ever heard of public/private partnerships? Does the property actually qualify as a brownfield?
Sean Lehmann June 01, 2011 at 03:51 AM
Matt, before you go looking up all the answers, why don't you just ask Frank, Linda and the many others who have already known those answers from the very beginning. I appreciate your comments. I'm sure that when you go seeking the answers to my questions, you will see that Linda and Frank are correct.
Sean Lehmann June 01, 2011 at 04:01 AM
Hi Matt. I read your comments. They do not reveal that you have any answers to any of my questions. Thanks.
Sean Lehmann June 01, 2011 at 04:08 AM
Hi Matt. I'll be offline but I'm sure Linda can give you all the answers you seek.
King Pedlar June 01, 2011 at 04:31 AM
Well said, Frank
Frank Mercuri June 01, 2011 at 12:50 PM
Reading Matt's comments leads me to believe he knows little of what is taking place or what took place regarding the parkland. Seems loaded with critisim rather than substance. If it were not for the Civic groups, all of them, pounding the beat to make sure that no harmful developement would ever be put on what is now designated park land. Yes Matt, it is a park and recorded as such. It took the efforts of a hard working individual, a former worker at the hospital,, and president of the Kings Park Civic association for many years, Greg Szurniki, to get this properaty a park. Politicians are a tool. There has to be some trust in someone and there are some we do trust. Many have stories to tell about the KPCC. There is much history there. What better way to assue their legacy than to fight for them to keep this land as an historic site via a park. Civic associations fight for the community not their gain. There is much brought to light via these orgsanizations. If it were not for their work Kings Park would have a different face. There are many good people putting their time and energy in making things right. They could be home sitting in front of the TV set but do not. I have lived in KP for 46 years and got involved fighting a number of issues that affect our community. I worked for the Feds and met a number of politicians. I know when there is sincerity and when there is BS. No one is out there to give votes to anyone. We work for the betterment of the community period.
Frank Mercuri June 01, 2011 at 04:57 PM
There was no arragance cited . If you have "proof" make it public. Based on your last comment, I leave you with this thought, you too are free to say what you wish, call me names whatever, I have thick skin. Adios amigo( go with God my friend).
Sean Lehmann June 01, 2011 at 06:49 PM
Hi Matt. I appreciate you looking for answers to my questions. However, it is not necassary as I already have the answers. You are free to believe what you wish. I will tell you that those involved in pushing for parkland did weigh all options for the former hospital proprty and parkland was the best option for the Kings Park tax base. Those involved do understand that you have had a keen interest in the park property due to your foil request and subsequent issue of an opinion byRobert Freeman back in 2006. Again, I appreciate your original comments. Regards, Sean
Frank Mercuri June 02, 2011 at 03:07 AM
The redevelopement was the study that Smithtown had made. As to Gregs wanting it a park, his motto was "Keep the park in kings Park". You are taking much out of context. I said at the time as I reiterated a number of times at meetings with our park and state representatives that the idea we had was to look at a new park tieing in with Sunken Meadow and the green belt. That is why Bernadette Castro looked at the property and had it desiganated a park with the approval of Pataki who also viewed the property. LAMB had their presentation to the community and it was rejected overwhelmingly and they pulled out. I do not know where you are going or what white horse your riding and deciding what windmill to attack. I know economics so please spare me your platitudes. Any developement there will be park related and a master plan will achieve that end. Our goal is to have this park as one to be proud of for all residents of New York State. I will keep on fighting to achieve that end and trust with help of God to continue to give me health and energy to do whatever I can. All the info you have is the past. If you have something new then share it if not well then.... Again Adios Amigo.


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