A former psychiatric hospital on the grounds of the Nissequogue...

A former psychiatric hospital on the grounds of the Nissequogue River State Park in Kings Park in 2019. Credit: James Carbone

The Nissequogue River State Park, encompassing the former Kings Park Psychiatric Center, would be redeveloped to add sports fields, dog parks, and playgrounds, and remove former hospital buildings and roadways, under a new plan from the state parks department.

State officials have been planning to redesign the 521-acre property in in Kings Park for several years. The proposed park campus would include possible demolition of former hospital buildings and remediation of others.

Kings Park Psychiatric Center was among the largest such facilities in the world when it operated from 1884 until 1996, treating 9,300 patients during peak capacity in the 1950s, and employing many Long Islanders. 

The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation's "draft master plan" released last week would add sports fields, dog parks, fitness trails and playgrounds, and also, expand the area's bird conservation area. 

Officials would remove former hospital roads and work to connect separate trails.

A three-quarter mile stretch of roadway, on Kings Park Boulevard between Rt. 25A and St. Johnland Road, would be converted to open space, parks officials said. 

George Gorman Jr., regional state parks director for Long Island, told Newsday on Wednesday: "The goal is to develop it into a park, but we also want to make sure that we tell the story, that we do an historic interpretation, and address and preserve some of the sensitive environmental areas so we have a park that is enjoyed by athletes, hikers, naturalists, and historic preservationists." 

In a draft environmental impact statement, parks officials said the grounds are "well-loved and well-used but in need of additional recreational amenities to expand its mission as a public park and to better serve the needs of the surrounding community."

There are 52 former buildings or structures from the property that still stand, including some that have been restored for park use or are in the process of being fortified.

The park attracts 200,000 visitors annually but is a low revenue performer compared to other state parks, according to the draft environmental impact statement.

The park "has not had a comprehensive plan to guide its physical change from a former institutional campus to a contemporary local and regional recreational destination that honors its history," the report said..

The project also "prioritizes the creation of a new pedestrian and bike-centered circulation system and weaves together unique habitats and interpretive landscape features that tell the story of the site’s history," the environmental impact statement said.

The work is also needed, parks officials wrote, to prevent further destruction of the property by vandals. 

"Trespassing, vandalism and theft have led to an accelerated decline of building conditions, which present an enhanced threat of arson," the report said. "If no action is taken, the degradation of buildings will continue"

Earlier this year, officials began renovating the psychiatric center's decayed auditorium for use as an theater.

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