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Demolition begins at Kings Park Psych Center

A crew began demolishing a dining facility Monday. Photo by Rachel Shapiro

August 13, 2012 | 12:55 PM
On Monday morning, controlled demolition began on the first of 19 structures to be removed from the former Kings Park Psychiatric Center.

The state Parks Department, which owns the property, determined that the structures chosen for demolition are deteriorated beyond repair.

Video by Rachel Shapiro
In March, the Parks Department signed a $6.4 million contract with Indiana-based National Salvage & Service Corporation to demolish 15 buildings, along with a pier, smokestack and other structures.

Four of the 15 buildings to be demolished are located within the 153-acre Nissequogue River State Park, established in 2000. The other 11 buildings slated for demolition are located on an additional 365 acres of the psych center property that were transferred to the Parks Department in 2006.

Before beginning the two-day demolition of the first building on Monday, work crews sprayed the building — No. 123, a dining facility — with water to prevent dust, possibly containing contaminants, from becoming airborne during demolition.

Dvirka and Bartilucci Consulting Engineers of Woodbury was hired to monitor air quality to ensure asbestos from the buildings is properly managed.

Demolition was originally planned to begin in May but was pushed back because the contractor was busy with other projects, according to Ron Foley, state parks regional director for Long Island.

A mixed past
Among the dozen or so people who gathered to view the demolition were Patrick Foley, 62, and his wife, Nancy, 58, both of whom worked at the psych center.

Patrick Foley's father and two uncles came from Ireland to work at the psych center. Foley's father later came back for his mother, and four or five years later, he and his sister joined their parents in Kings Park. He worked as a teen in the food service, then grounds and laundry at the Kings Park hospital.

His father worked as a cook in Building 123 and Patrick Foley reminisced about the days he spent at the psych center.

Back in the day, KPPC employees would gather at his parents' house, sing songs and tell stories.

"In the old days, you knew everybody … you did something wrong, they told your parents," he said.

Nancy Foley, who worked mostly as an attendant, said she, "treated patients here like my family even though they were severely ill." She treated them with respect and they did the same, she said.

"They needed to be treated like everyone else."

The couple met in Kings Park and married in 1975; they have two daughters.

While they watched the first building being torn apart, Patrick Foley said, "This was a beautiful place … you had the cows … they had a pumpkin patch," and patients worked and were part of the psych center community.

Some, however, have less fond memories of the place.

Lucy Winer wound up in the psych center in 1967, at age 17, after a failed suicide attempt. She produced and directed, "Kings Park: Stories From an American Institution."

"Starting in my 40s, I started to question what had happened to me," she said in an interview last month. "It's like the arm of the past was reaching out … I started writing. I started trying to figure it all out."

She said she produced the documentary about her own story, as well as the story of the hospital and its closing.

Getting it done
Though it started late, Ron Foley said in a previous interview, he expects the project will still be completed on schedule — around the fall of 2013.

The demolition project is funded by $29 million in state funds secured by Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) in 2006.

Earlier this year, Gov. Andrew Cuomo included $22.5 million in his executive budget for Nissequogue River State Park, $15 million of which was allocated for demolition. The additional $7.5 million has not been earmarked for any specific projects at the park.

The project is expected to create about 65 jobs for local subcontractors in trucking, hazardous materials removal, security, asphalt and concrete restoration work, rodent control and surveying. Because costs came in lower than expected, Flanagan said he would work with the state Parks Department to determine the best use for the rest of the money.

Some in the community have called for the state to complete a master plan for the park but state officials have not indicated any plans to do so.

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