Keeper of city’s past steps down, Kennedy resigns from four boards.

From Daily Hampshire Gazette
Saturday, April 19, 2008
By Dan Crowley

Christopher A. Kennedy has resigned as chairman of the Historical Commission and three other city panels he served on with an eye toward protecting the city’s history, including the Community Preservation Committee.

A champion of the city’s past, Kennedy said growing demands on his personal time coupled with his burgeoning consulting business prompted the mass resignations. He also is stepping down from the Elm Street Historical District Commission and Citizens Advisory Committee of the former Northampton State Hospital.

Three of Kennedy’s positions were mayoral appointments, and the Historical Commission last year named Kennedy its representative to the Community Preservation Committee.

“My time served in the various appointments has been rewarding, illuminating, and generally a very worthwhile experience for me, and I hope that I have been able to contribute in a meaningful way to Northampton’s present, and conversely its future, by appreciating its past,” he wrote in a recent letter of resignation to Mayor Clare Higgins.

Story Continues… [Subscription Required]

Mike Kirby: Back Row, Back Ward

From Community Radio Hour
Thursday, February 7, 2008
By Mary Serreze

Former City Councilor Mike Kirby is a political activist, a freelance investigative journalist, and author. His most recent book, “Back Row, Back Ward” examines the history of the efforts to redevelop Hospital Hill, former site of the Northampton Lunatic Asylum. He spins an arcane tale, involving public agencies, private developers, a string of mayors, and an Advisory Committee that caught the eye of the State Ethics Commission. It’s an alphabet soup: the State Division of Capital Planning and Operations (DCPO), The Community Builders (TCB), The Citizens’ Advisory Committee (CAC), Hospital Hill LLC, and the mysterious Northampton Development Corporation (NDC). He paints a picture of wishful thinking, back room dealing, pre-ordained conclusions, and disregard for historical values in the pursuit of profit.

Story Continues…

Hospital project is still waiting

From The Republican
Sunday, February 10, 2008
By Fred Contrada

After a decade of waiting, Northampton is hoping that 2008 will be the year that a new commercial and industrial complex finally rises from the rubble of Northampton State Hospital.

Ever since the hospital shut down in the early 1990s, the city has looked to the sprawling campus as its greatest opportunity for new business space. The process of turning the land over from the state to the city took years. When that was finally accomplished, there was more waiting for the state and federal help needed to develop the site.

Story Continues…

Housing plans get green look

From The Republican
Sunday, February 03, 2008
By Nancy Gonter

The 33 single-family homes and townhouses that Wright Builders plans to construct at Village Hill Northampton will be some of the greenest homes in the city.

Jonathan A. Wright, president of Wright Builders of 48 Bates St., said that construction of the homes will follow the exacting standards required to get the so-called LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification which was developed by the U.S. Green Building Council for environmentally sustainable construction.

Construction to the “LEED” standard requires documenting during the construction process that less waste was sent to landfills, miles driven for the project are limited and that soil on the site is conserved, Wright said. There are a series of other standards that must also be followed, he said.

Story Continues…

Village Hill projects gain Planning Board approval

From Daily Hampshire Gazette
Friday, January 25, 2008
by Andrew Horton

Plans for the future “smart growth” development of the north campus of the former Northampton State Hospital are taking shape.

On Thursday, the Planning Board approved two housing projects proposed by Wright Builders, for what is now called Village Hill.

One project, called Eastview, is expected to develop 12 condominium, market-rate townhouse units in three buildings, all within a single two-thirds of an acre parcel of Village Hill.

Eastview – which would be located at the corner of Olander Drive and Moser Street – is expected to be pedestrian-friendly and will include walkways and bicycle racks.

Another neighborhood, called Morningside, will call for the construction of 11 market-rate single family homes just across the street from Eastview along Olander Drive. Each home in Morningside is expected to include a garage, front porch, back deck, and adjoining private backyard patio. The Morningside homes will also share a common sidewalk running along Olander Drive.

Story Continues… [Subscription Required]

Hospital Hill housing to start

From The Republican
Saturday, January 12, 2008
By Fred Contrada

The first newly built residential units on Hospital Hill could break ground as soon as April 1 after the Planning Board approved the project Thursday night.

Community Builders, which is developing part of the residential component of the Village Hill Northampton project, sought and received permission to build 40 apartment units in six buildings on three parcels. Thirty-two of those units will be affordable to people earning up to 60 percent of the median area income. Twelve of those 32 will be earmarked for clients of the Department of Mental Health.

The entire campus where the commercial-industrial-residential complex is being built was once the site of Northampton State Hospital. The city gained control of the land when the state deinstitutionalized clients in the early 1990s, placing many of them in community settings. The project had been called the Village at Hospital Hill but MassDevelopment, the quasi-public agency overseeing the project, changed the name to Village Hill Northampton because it said some prospective commercial tenants were turned off by the reference to the hospital.

Story Continues…

Northampton to see changes

From The Republican

Thursday, January 03, 2008
By Fred Contrada

If all goes according to plan, 2008 will leave Northampton looking markedly different than it looked on Jan. 1.

A number of major construction projects will change the face of downtown Northampton and nearby Hospital Hill. The latter, which in recent years has been used mostly for sledding, will take a giant step toward begin turned it into a village with businesses and residents of all income levels.

Once the city’s biggest employer, Northampton State Hospital was a village of sorts in its heyday, with its own farm, bowling alley and beauty parlor. Since the Department of Mental Health began relocating patients into the community in the early 1990s, the city has dreamed of turning the site into a new kind of village.

Story Continues…

The life and death of Old Main

From Daily Hampshire Gazette

The life and death of Old Main: Images preserve the legacy of a now-demolished Northampton State Hospital building
Thursday, December 13, 2007
by Sarah Dunlap

About 6 years ago, Haydenville photographer Mark Majeski lost sight of his dog, Zoey, while walking on the grounds of the former Northampton State Hospital. Following the sound of her barking, Majeski found his way into the long-abandoned main building of the hospital through an off-kilter door – and entered a near-forgotten world.

His Nikon camera conveniently in hand, Majeski, a professional photographer and graphic designer, spent the rest of the day wandering through the defunct mental hospital’s halls and tunnels, photographing the cavernous building inside and out.

Story Continues… [Subscription Required]

Halos and Horns

From The Valley Advocate

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Northampton voters passed the Community Preservation Act, permitting the state to tax them more so the revenue could go toward historic preservation, open space preservation, and community housing. While Jack Hornor’s a passionate affordable housing advocate, in his first year overseeing the committee, Northampton’s lost far more history than it’s preserved. Hornor justified the destruction of Northampton State Hospital’s historic Old Main building by saying that it was a public health hazard, and sooner or later someone might have gotten hurt. Seems to us old buildings have far more to fear from him than we do from the buildings.

Story Continues…

Hospital Hill ghosts restless over change

From The Republican

Monday, December 17, 2007
by Fred Contrada

Once upon a time – 1856 to be precise – the great lights of their day built an asylum for the insane atop a hill in Northampton and called it the Northampton Lunatic Hospital.

You wouldn’t have wanted to spend the weekend there, but it was created with the good intention of providing humane treatment for the mentally ill.

In 1903, with the patient population up to 650, the institution changed its name to Northampton State Hospital. By 1952, there were more than 1,000 patients and the place was a village unto itself.

With more than 500 workers, it was the biggest employer in Northampton. Many of them lived on the grounds and went from one building to another through underground tunnels.

The hospital boasted its own farm, piggery, bowling alley and beauty parlor. Legend has it there was also a sort of Potter’s Field where inmates were buried in unmarked graves, the location of which remains unknown to this day.

By the 1990s, the approach to mental health had come full circle and the powers that be declared the mentally ill were better served in the communities from which they came. The hospital gradually shut down, and everyone left. But for all the blood, sweat and tears shed there, the place will forever be known as Hospital Hill.

Wait. Make that Village Hill Northampton.

Story Continues…

Abandoned Hospitals for the Mentally Ill Morph Into Housing

From The New York Times
By Katie Zezima
January 15, 2006

Abandoned Hospitals for the Mentally Ill Morph Into Housing FOR 150 years or so, the brick buildings of the Northampton State Hospital have loomed large over this western Massachusetts city. At its peak, the hospital housed 2,400 people with mental illnesses.

Ten years ago, the state closed the hospital, which abuts Smith College, and the 70 buildings were left empty. Now, the 126-acre property, within walking distance of the downtown, is shedding its ghosts and being transformed into a mixed-use development.

The first residents moved into new homes on an outlying part of the property last year. Two buildings were converted into 35 town houses and apartments that will be rented in the next few months, and one more building will probably be refurbished. The other buildings will be replaced with houses, office buildings and industrial space, according to Thomas Kegelman, a project manager at Community Builders, the developer.

When it is finished, there will be 207 housing units. “It is a model of how to develop new housing with a compact footprint,” said Northampton’s mayor, Claire Higgins.

The same scene is playing nationwide, as municipalities and developers look for ways to grow in a confined space, while revitalizing shuttered mental hospitals. Although there is sometimes controversy about demolishing the old buildings, the sites have no problem attracting developers or buyers.

The Benjamin Development Company in Garden City, N.Y., bought the 850-acre Harlem Valley Psychiatric Hospital in Dover, N.Y., in Dutchess County, north of New York City, for $4.5 million, and plans to build what amounts to a new town, with 1,200 residential units, retail and office space and a nine-hole golf course. The developers say they hope the nearby Harlem Valley-Wingdale Metro-North Railroad station will attract buyers who commute to Manhattan.

The Villebois, a community of 2,400 residences in Wilsonville, Ore., built on the old Dammasch State Hospital grounds, has a waiting list, as does the Grand Traverse Commons in Traverse City, Mich., a luxury town house development on the site of the former Traverse City State Hospital.

Meanwhile, prices for three-bedroom homes at the Rivermark in Santa Clara, Calif., on the former grounds of Agnews State Hospital, have increased to about $920,000, from about $650,000 in 2002, residents say. Sun Microsystems also built its headquarters on a parcel there.

While the projects bring benefits, they are often hard to develop. The sites are usually neglected and have rotting buildings filled with asbestos and lead paint. Then there are human hurdles: getting buyers to overcome any stigmas about the sites, dealing with the concerns of former patients and employees who have a personal connection to the land, and considering the objections of preservationists who are worried about the fate of historic buildings.

Overcoming the mental hospital stigma was difficult for Linda Jones, 39, who coordinates client services for a diversity training firm and grew up not far from a mental institution, Boston State Hospital. “Everyone in the neighborhood just considered it a place where the mentally ill went, and the rest of us just stayed away,” Ms. Jones said.

It’s no surprise that Ms. Jones, who has spent years trying to buy a home, was skeptical after hearing that part of the hospital was being developed into market-rate and low-income housing. But after attending community meetings and a home buyers’ class offered by the developer, Ms. Jones, who rents a one-bedroom apartment nearby, decided to move into the new community. She says she hopes to get a market-rate home for about $250,000.

Rebecca Macauley, a medical secretary who spent about five years as a patient living at Northampton State Hospital during the 1980’s and later worked as a security guard there, is glad to see the property developed. Ms. Macauley says the transformation reflects the progress made in treating patients with mental illness, who now tend to get help in smaller settings. “We’re now treating people like normal human beings, and in a back-door kind of way this is what the redevelopment is saying,” she said.