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Ward: State buildings face wrecking ball

Nine buildings on the campus of the former Brainerd State Hospital are scheduled for demolition, possibly starting as soon as Saturday, Rep. John Ward, DFL-Brainerd, said Monday.

Ward, describing the current situation as a last stand for the bulk of the buildings at the Brainerd Regional Treatment Center campus, called for Gov. Mark Dayton and Department of Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson to take one last look at ways to save and use the buildings before they’re destroyed.

He said he has not received any response from Dayton or Jesson, but he was cautiously optimistic the buildings might get a reprieve. At the same time, Ward admitted that a delay of the scheduled demolition of Buildings 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 17, 19 and 4 was a longshot. Also scheduled for demolition, according to Ward, was a smaller storage building and the east side tunnels, which connected buildings. 

Alan Van Buskirk, physical plant operations manager, could not be reached for a specific timetable as to when the demolition would occur. Patrice Vick, a spokesperson for the Department of Human Services, said she didn’t have those details yet. Doug Seiler, Regional Administrator for State Operated Services, said control of the vacant buildings was turned over to different state personnel and he wasn’t aware of when demolition might take place.

If the buildings are torn down next month, it will be a significant chapter in the campus at the intersection of Highways 25 and 18. In a 1988 Brainerd Dispatch special section noting the 30th anniversary of the campus, it was reported that at its peak the patient population was more than 1,500. With a change in treatment philosophy, the Dispatch report noted the patient numbers declined dramatically from 1958 to 1979.

Ward, who worked at the state hospital for a period of time as a Brainerd School District employee, said that costs of renovating the buildings as well as asbestos abatement issues made it difficult to find a suitable new tenant.

Before the wrecking ball destroys the former state hospital buildings, Ward said he wants to be certain the buildings can’t be re-defined or re-purposed.

“It’s tough to watch this happen, especially in an area that is crying for economic development and job growth.” Ward said.  

Ward said he’s offered many suggestions for possible uses for the buildings over the years, maintaining that they were still functional buildings. He did say, however, that groups that had looked at possible uses for the buildings had noted the high cost of bringing the buildings up to code. He also said some developers claim it would be cheaper to tear down the buildings and construct new ones rather than renovate the old ones.

Sen. Paul Gazelka, R-Brainerd, agreed that renovation of the buildings would be expensive but said he would be part of the discussion if an entity had plans for the buildings. He also noted the high cost of keeping the vacant buildings open.

“But if there aren’t any, I’m not going to stop the state (from destroying the vacant buildings),” he said. “Now is the time if someone is serious.”

Ward said Buildings 1 and 2, the main central buildings near the entrance, were not among the building scheduled for this demolition project.

Programs that continue to operate at the Regional Treatment Center include a MnCARE administrative program (Building 20), the Minnesota Neuro-rehabilitation Services (Building 21) and Community Addiction Recovery Enterprises (Building 22).

Ward urged area residents to contact the governor and DHS commissioner with ideas on what should be done with the buildings. He said he learned that a local bidder for the demolition was considered but was considerably higher than the winning bidder. Ward asked state officials to encourage the winning bidder to hire locally if the firm needs additional workers.

MIKE O’ROURKE may be reached at or 855-5860.

Becca Clemens
After graduating high school in 2004, I attended Central Lakes College in Staples, MN for 2 years where I got a diploma in Communication Art and Design. I then transfered up to Bemidji State University in, you guessed it, Bemidji, MN. In the spring of 2009, I graduated from BSU. Then in the fall of 2009 I got a job at Echo Publishing, a sister company to the Brainerd Dispatch.