Good Afternoon
Good Afternoon

Demolition time at Kings Park

The abandoned Kings Park State Psychiatric center north

The abandoned Kings Park State Psychiatric center north of 25a in Kings Park. Long Island Sound is in the distance (2007). Credit: NEWSDAY/MICHAEL E. ACH

The crash and thud of demolition is coming soon to the former Kings Park Psychiatric Center. That will be music to the ears of a community that has long wanted the state to clean up its mess and make the whole property into a park. But folks in Kings Park need to keep in mind that this is only the overture to what is likely to be a long, costly symphony. Taking down all the beyond-repair buildings and cleaning five miles of asbestos-tainted steam tunnels will cost much more.

And where's that money coming from?

For now, Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport), deserves a bulldog-of-the-year award for his tenacity in first getting $25 million into the budget, starting in 2006, then adding $4 million more, and making sure the governor's office didn't sweep it away for some other purpose. Now $15 million of it will be used to start the demolition -- finally.

In August, Flanagan wrote to Rose Harvey, the new commissioner of the state's Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, reminding her that the demolition was supposed to have started in the fall of last year and asking for a progress report. Last week, Harvey wrote back to say that her office had allocated $15 million to demolish up to 15 buildings. That's only about a quarter of the facility's total buildings. In November, she said, her agency will start looking for a contractor. She said she hopes to get a contract signed by March, so the actual work can begin in May. Excellent.

But here's the rub: Of the state money that Flanagan obtained, $3.6 million paid for a study of the total demolition cost. For years, informal estimates had been in the range of $60 million. But the study, completed last year, pegged it at a staggering $215 million.

Some think that cost estimate is unrealistically high. Maybe this initial round of demolition will give us a better idea how accurate it is. For now, it's the best number we have. Given the state's tight financial situation, it's hard to see how even the persistent and persuasive Flanagan can come up with that kind of money from the state coffers.

So once again, the community may have to contemplate an infusion of private-sector money to get the cleanup done. Developers will be willing to lay out money to remove the mess, but only if the Town of Smithtown allows them to build a project or projects with enough density to make up for those costs and still make a profit. So far, major mixed-use development proposals have gone nowhere, because the community rejected the density. But some small portion of the land may have to be developed, to come up with some of the funds needed for the cleanup.

Flanagan should keep pushing for further state dollars for that purpose and for a master plan to develop Nissequogue River State Park, created in 1999 from 153 acres of the facility's more than 500 acres. At the same time, Flanagan will have to remain realistic. If he can't get enough state money for a full cleanup for years to come, we can't wait that long, while the remaining buildings further deteriorate. That means finding a developer and a project the town will approve.

For now, we await the sweet sound of demolition. hN