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2005 Danvers State Hospital Chronicles

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12-15-05 Danvers State sold to developers Chris Cassidy

The Kirkbride now belongs to AvalonBay.

The state sold Danvers State Hospital to the Virginia-based developer yesterday in a deal worth $12 million, sealing 22 years of discussions over the fate of the 77-acre abandoned asylum property.

AvalonBay plans to build 497 apartments and condominiums on the site and demolish most of the Kirkbride building, a Victorian Gothic-style, eight-winged fortress stretching for a quarter-mile that has lured artists and ghost hunters since it closed in 1992.

Officials yesterday touted the economic benefits of the deal. The state will receive $3.2 million of the sale money to build affordable housing for Department of Mental Health clients. About $6 million will go into the state's general fund.

Danvers will receive about $2 million, which will be set aside for education, historic preservation and affordable housing. The town will also see a boost of about $1 million in annual property tax revenues. And 70 units will be added to the town's affordable housing stock.

"It's good news because it puts to positive use a number of acres of property that has fallen into disrepair due to lack of use," Town Manager Wayne Marquis said. "I look forward to making it a very high-quality project and one we can all be proud of."

But the sale has faced sharp criticism from a group of local preservationists who have spent more than $25,000 trying to stop it.

Danvers resident John Archer, one of the most vocal critics of the project, said officials missed a perfect opportunity to restore a structure with rich history and fascinating architecture.

"This is an abysmal moment in North Shore history," Archer said. "To celebrate that building and bring it back to life would have been one of the greatest things. It would have put Danvers on the map.

"They should be ashamed of themselves," he said of the project's stakeholders. "Their lack of insight is pathetic. It's devastating to our history."

Preservationists stalled the sale for two months by challenging it in court, but both times a judge eventually allowed the transaction to proceed.

Archer admitted that his group is running out of options.

"We have nothing else at this point to say," Archer said. "I wish I had some hope."

AvalonBay Vice President Scott Dale could not be reached for comment yesterday.

The Kirkbride, which once served more than 2,000 hospital patients, will soon house 61 apartments and a function room. Crews will add a lounge, fitness center and indoor basketball court to the rear of the structure.

As part of the deal, AvalonBay agreed to create a permanent memorial honoring the legacy of former hospital patients and staff and maintain a cemetery just below the summit of Hathorne Hill.

The developer can start knocking down parts of the Kirkbride and 39 other buildings as soon as it receives a demolition permit from the town. Building Inspector Peter Bryson said the town must act within 30 days after receiving AvalonBay's application. Because of the weakened condition of the Kirkbride, the portion of the building that will be retained will first have to be shored up before the wings can be dismantled, he said.

"It's not as simple as tearing down a shed. ... There may be portions where they can literally push it over," Bryson said. "There may be portions that will require a more delicate procedure."

Bryson said he expects AvalonBay to begin demolition quickly.

"Obviously, the sooner they go forward and the sooner they generate income off the piece of property, the more successful they are," he said.

The developers hope to start construction in early 2006 and wrap up by February 2008, according to a news release issued last night.

12-15-05 It's official: Avalon Bay takes ownership of Danvers State Sally Kerans

Housing development corporation Avalon Bay Communities, Inc., took ownership of the Danvers State Hospital yesterday for $18.4 million, according to Avalon Bay spokesman Scott Dale.

The official closing on the deal comes 14 years after the state announced it was closing Danvers State and other state-owned institutions for the care of those with mental illness. The 75-acre site is known for its signature structure, the neo-Gothic building designed by Thomas Kirkbride.

Legal challenges by local preservationists to save the Kirkbride from the wrecking ball were unsuccessful. A judge in recent weeks rejected claims by the Danvers Preservation Fund, Inc. that the Danvers Preservation Commission was unclear about a crucial vote it took year ago which proved fatal to the effort to preserve the structure.

With the legal challenges cleared, Avalon Bay Inc. needed only to take title in order to proceed with their plans to erect more than 400 units of housing on the site, which contains numerous buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Spokesman Scott Dale said security fencing will be erected as soon as their contractor can get on site, once demolition permits are approved.

12-15-05 Beverly Hospital plans Danvers expansion Sally Kerans

Beverly Hospital plans to build a new $15 to $20 million ambulatory care facility on the former Danvers State Hospital lowlands property, and will likely convert its Lindall Hill site to senior housing, Northeast Health System President and CEO Steve Laverty said this week.

"We have a longstanding commitment to Danvers," Laverty said, noting Northeast Health System’s plan will also mean major changes for the Hunt Center, the Lindall Hill facility owned by Beverly Hospital.

"It’s a big investment for us," Laverty told the Herald.

The investment that comes as great news to Town Manager Wayne Marquis.

"We were glad they decided early on that Danvers is the place they want to be in the future," he said. "It’s very good news for Danvers and for the North Shore," Marquis added.

The news comes within hours of Avalon Bay taking title to the 75-acre former state hospital property from the state, a decade-long process which concluded yesterday when the state released the property to Avalon Bay Communities (see adjacent story).

Avalon Bay Communities spokesman Scott Dale confirmed that negotiations are under way to sell some of the lowland acreage to Northeast Health System/Beverly Hospital.

"It’s a good use for the site and a win-win for all parties," said Dale. He said the facility will front Maple Street and be visible from Route 1 south.

Laverty said the location offers better patient and physician access to the current and future ambulatory services Beverly Hospital offers.

Laverty said the approximately 80,000-square-foot facility will offer ambulatory care and specialized services on two or three floors. Day surgery, cardiac and oncology centers, diabetes care, breast health, chronic pain management, lifestyle management programs and services and physician offices will be on the site, he said. He said Children’s Hospital of Boston has expressed an interest in leasing space in the facility for specialty clinics, such as pediatric gastrointestinal care and pediatric cardiology.

"We like to think the people in the community will be as excited as we are," Laverty said. "We’ll have two well-positioned operations in Danvers that will meet community needs in a way that’s respectful of citizens living there," Laverty told the Herald.

Laverty said it’s too early to know whether the Hunt Center, the former town-owned and operated Hunt Memorial Hospital, will be renovated or torn down.

Laverty said conversations he’s had over the past months with Town Manager Wayne Marquis made it clear that a use with little traffic is something town officials would like to see.

"They’ve been very up front about wanting to maintain and expand their presence in Danvers," said Marquis.

Laverty said Marquis has emphasized in conversations over a period of many months the need for "senior housing."

Options include congregate, assisted living or 55-and-over housing, he said, but added it is too early to know exactly what type of housing will be built. Other Northeast/Beverly Hospital senior housing operations include Heritage at Danvers, and Ledgewood and Herrick House, two assisted living facilities on the Beverly Hospital campus. All are market-rate facilities with a small number of set-asides for low-income seniors.

Marquis was less specific, saying he’s most encouraged by Northeast’s "real interest" in working with the town

However, he said the presence on Lindall Hill of a nursing home and an assisted living facility makes senior housing and health services a logical fit for the area.

The plans will require approval from the Planning Board.

Laverty said the pediatric psychiatry program run by Mass General, which leases space at the site, and Healthsouth physical therapy programs currently at the Lindall Hill site will remain.

"It’s a positive development for the residents of this community and the North Shore, and their success at the Hunt center is the foundation from which they will grow the business," said Marquis. Northeast Health System is a non-profit.

11-22-05 Judge denies move to block demolition Chris Cassidy

Yesterday, a Superior Court judge paved the way for the town to issue a demolition permit to AvalonBay, which plans to tear down most of the 130-year-old former insane asylum to build apartments and condominiums.

A group of local preservationists, the Danvers Preservation Fund Inc. tried to block the demolition, saying the developers failed to follow local regulations when they sought building approval.

The judge's decision appears to clear the last hurdle in AvalonBay's attempts to buy the property for about $20 million and build 419 apartments and 64 condominiums there. About two-thirds of the Victorian Gothic-style Kirkbride building, the site's main attraction, would be demolished.

"Big business once again wins out over preservation," said John Archer, the project's loudest critic. "The enormous material waste will be amazing."

Attorney James Gilbert, representing the preservationists, said his clients will meet in a few days to discuss what their next move, if any, will be.

Meanwhile, town attorney Michael Lehane said he was pleased with the decision and maintained that continuing to delay the project would further jeopardize the portion of the Kirkbride that AvalonBay plans to preserve.
"This process has been going on long before the hospital closed," Lehane said. "There comes a point where the process has to come to a conclusion."

AvalonBay Vice President Scott Dale said he believes the judge made the right decision and said the land transaction from the state to AvalonBay would take place in a matter of "weeks to days."

"I'm confident we can move forward on the process that everyone's already worked so hard on," Dale said.

During a hearing in Salem Superior Court yesterday, Gilbert argued that town officials inappropriately interfered in the work of the local historic preservation commission. That body, which could have delayed demolition, never ruled that the 40 buildings on the state hospital land were worth saving.

Gilbert charged that preservation commission members didn't understand the issues they were voting on and were "hoodwinked" by officials from AvalonBay.

"You had a bunch of very confused people who only wanted to do the right thing. ... They were under enormous pressure because of the millions of dollars at stake."

Archer, who has vehemently railed against AvalonBay's plans, voted against preserving the property because he was confused on the vote, Gilbert said.

"The system failed in about six different ways," Gilbert said. "Because of that, we're going to watch as buildings on the National Register (of Historic Places) get demolished, and that's just wrong."

But Lehane fired back, attacking Gilbert's theory that the decision was born out of confusion.

"If your case is that you're clients are stupid and can't understand English, then that's a slim reed to rely on," he said.

Lehane said it was the fourth time the preservationists have sought a judge's intervention.

The shuttered mental hospital has attracted artists, historians and ghost hunters fascinated with the architecture and design of the quarter-mile-wide Kirkbride. "Urban explorers," an underground culture of thrill-seekers, have risked arrest by slipping onto the site at night and photographing the building.

AvalonBay attorney Kevin O'Flaherty said both the town and commonwealth stand to gain if the purchase goes through.

"We have a handful of people that think they know better than everyone else," O'Flaherty said. "They don't represent the public's best interest."

11-22-05 Danvers State sale on track Sally Kerans

Salem Superior Court Judge Howard Whitehead rejected the latest attempt by the Danvers Preservation Commission to stall the demolition of buildings at Danvers State Hospital.

In an hour-long proceeding in Salem Superior Court Monday, Whitehead listened to arguments by Danvers Preservation Fund Inc., the Town of Danvers, and Avalon Bay Communities, Inc. before rejecting the plaintiffs' argument that the members of the commission didn't understand their vote in 2003 against finding the buildings at the former Danvers State Hospital worthy of preservation. He denied a preliminary injunction.

"They weren't a bunch of patsies," Whitehead responded to Salem attorney James Gilbert, who represented former commission members Kathryn Morano, John Archer, Wayne Eisenhauer and plaintiff Richard Trask.

Trask isn't a member of the commission but has since been involved in the effort to prevent the demolition of the buildings on the site.

The Danvers Preservation Fund Inc., not to be confused with the Danvers Preservation Commission at the center of the legal fight, sought legal action to prevent the destruction of the Kirkbride and other buildings at the site. Trask and others have asserted throughout the decade-long process of closing the former state institution for the mentally ill that because the buildings are listed on the National Register of Historic Places they should be preserved.

The state and town disagreed.

Danvers Town Counsel Michael Lehane blasted the members of the Preservation Fund, calling them a small group of people who think they know better than everyone else. He called the legal machinations of the group "a historic preservation impulse."

"The best he (Gilbert) can do is suggest his clients are stupid, that they didn't know what they were doing, " he said. "Who among us cannot understand?" he continued. "Look at the bylaw."

In 2003, Lehane said, he advised the commission members against including all of the buildings in their vote, as opposed to just 38 of the buildings. They rejected the advice, he said.

A letter from the commission inquiring about jurisdiction was never answered, Archer said after the court appearance.

Judge Whitehead said Lehane might have been wrong on the issue of how many buildings the commission should have included in its vote. But, he said, it was moot because the commission voted against finding the buildings worthy of preservation.

The commission did so by a vote of 5 to 2, with Chairman Kathryn Morano and member Pete Haynes voting yes, that they were worthy of preservation. Members have said they voted no because they believed the application before them was improper. They believed only the state had the authority to make application since the state owned the property and this application had been presented by the would-be developer Avalon Bay. They wanted to register their dissatisfaction with a process that left out their input.

Whitehead said such was not the case, and that Avalon Bay was a proper applicant. Members who attempted to register their opposition to the entire process by voting no had engaged in a strategy that backfired.

Gilbert tried unsuccessfully to argue that Lehane and others had created confusion among members regarding their vote as part of a "shell game" by the town to push the project through regardless of the fate of the Kirkbride building in particular, an 18th century neo-Gothic structure.

"Everybody knew the members didn't know what they were voting on," said Gilbert. "They did not ever intend to vote that the buildings weren't worthy of preservation." Whitehead was unpersuaded.

He suggested it was simply implausible that the same board which overrode town counsel on the question of the 40 buildings at the state hospital site - "and I think they were dead wrong on that" - were somehow hoodwinked when it came to the vote.

"It was an up or down motion, wasn't it?" asked Whitehead, chuckling.

Archer said this week that the vote on whether to invoke the six-month demolition delay wasn't so crucial.

"Our vote that night had nothing to do with Avalon Bay's decision to tear down the buildings, and all we were asking was for them to salvage two more wings of the Kirkbride," he said.

"We gave in on everything; we changed to zoning for the Kirkbride building to be reused, and they've given nothing," he said.

Whitehead also rejected Danvers Preservation Fund, Inc.'s argument that the application for a demolition permit wasn't valid because the company wasn't yet the legal owner of the property.

"It wasn't their business whether it was an appropriate applicant," said Whitehead.

He said the state building code specifically allows somebody other than an owner to apply for a demolition permit.

Whitehead also found that the building inspector had acted in accordance with state and local laws.

He was unpersuaded by Gilbert's argument that since the Danvers State buildings are on the National Register of Historic Places, they were entitled to protection (although he did ask at one point what the National Register listing actually states, a query that wasn't answered.)


Reactions

Among the spectators in the courtroom Monday afternoon was Joe Sadoway, who has followed the process and recalls the meeting at which the commission took their fateful vote.

"This is evil," said Sadoway.

"This is a great disservice to generations to come and they will ask why did the town allow this travesty to happen?" said John Archer, who served on both the town preservation commission and the Danvers Preservation Fund Inc. "Of course we all think they're historically significant, " said Archer.

"We were trying to get out of the vote, and we didn't have anyone there who could help us, so we did botch the vote. But even if we hadn't, they had already worked the six months delay into their timeline, " said Archer. "They do it everyday."

He said they were trying to do more than just give them the six months.

"Generations will ask how could this travesty happen: How could they have been so shortsighted? This is the poverty of progress; they should be ashamed of themselves. From Mass achusetts Historic Commission to the town manager," said Archer.

Avalon Bay Communities spokesman Scott Dale said following the proceeding that the company plans to file for permits within weeks.

The company plans to build 466 apartments on the site.

11-18-05 Back to court about Danvers State Sally Kerans

The attorney for the Danvers Preservation Fund, Inc. will return to court next week to seek another delay of the sale of the Danvers State Hospital property, this time focusing on the role of Danvers officials and its Preservation Commission in the process.

Judge Howard Whitehead denied a request for a preliminary injunction sought by The Danvers Preservation Fund, Inc. on Nov. 8. A memorandum outlining the reasons for the denial has not been issued, the court said.

Attorney James Gilbert said his clients will appear in Salem Superior Court on Monday, Nov. 21, at 2 p.m. The town of Danvers will be there, too.

Gilbert and his clients contend that both state agencies and the town failed to give due attention to the historic value of many of the buildings on the Danvers State Hospital property. They contend that the Danvers Preservation Commission didn't have the authority to act on an application for permission to demolish the buildings because it was submitted by Avalon Bay Communities, the developer, which wasn't the rightful owner of the property.

Furthermore, some involved say that when the commission acted on the application by Avalon Bay Communities in 2003, members were confused about the action they were taking and how it would affect the structures on the property, including those listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

"It got very complicated and some members didn't even know what they were voting on, and instead of declaring they didn't have authority to rule, they declared it (the property) wasn't significant," said Richard Trask, the town archivist, who is not a member of the Preservation Commission.

Danvers Preservation Fund, Inc. attorney James Gilbert said this week that all that followed from that action should be moot because the town violated its own demolition by-law.

"Like everything else with the state hospital, this is a very Byzantine process," said Trask.

To date, a demolition permit has not been issued.

The closing on the sale of the former Danvers State Hospital property to Avalon Bay Communities was originally scheduled for Oct. 21.

11-9-05 Danvers State sale OK'd, but legal fight lingers Chris Cassidy

A judge yesterday ruled the sale and demolition of Danvers State Hospital can proceed, but local preservationists vowed to keep fighting.

A group incorporated as the Danvers Preservation Fund accused the state of neglecting historic preservation laws and filed an eleventh-hour lawsuit to block the sale. But yesterday's Salem Superior Court ruling cleared the way for the 77-acre property to be sold to developer AvalonBay.

"We're not giving up yet," said Kathryn Morano, a preservation fund member. "We still have another ace up our sleeve."

So the group will head back to court to try to stop the project, possibly as early as today, said attorney James Gilbert. AvalonBay plans to knock down a portion of the Gothic-style Kirkbride building to make way for housing.

The group wants to block the town building inspector from issuing a demolition permit to AvalonBay, claiming the town violated its own bylaws governing the demolition of historic buildings, Gilbert said.

Specifically, he claims the town manager "bullied" the local preservation commission into hearing AvalonBay's demolition request before it assumed ownership of the property — a violation of a town bylaw, Gilbert alleged. The preservation commission can delay demolition of a historic structure up to six months, he said.

"It was an abuse of the town manager's authority to force the preservation commission to act in a manner (it) knew was illegal," Gilbert said.

Town Manager Wayne Marquis could not be reached for a response yesterday evening.

Attorney Kevin O'Flaherty, representing AvalonBay, deferred comment to Vice President Scott Dale, who did not return a phone message yesterday.

Meanwhile, Gilbert hopes a judge will set a hearing sometime next week.

"We're Massachusetts, not Las Vegas," Gilbert said. "We don't tear down buildings without any thought or consideration of their historic nature.

"This isn't Caesar's Palace. This is a historic building that is entitled to a lot more consideration, both legally and morally, than what it's received."

At its peak, the hospital treated 2,000 patients, even though its official capacity was just 600.

The 130-year-old mental hospital has attracted artists, historians and even ghost hunters fascinated with the architecture and design of the quarter-mile-wide Kirkbride. "Urban explorers," an underground culture of thrill-seekers, have risked arrest by slipping onto the site at night and photographing the building.

It was even the setting for a 2001 horror movie, "Session 9."

But the latest court action to preserve the venerable building won't stop the sale, thanks to yesterday's superior court ruling.

The decision was a major victory for the parties involved in the sale. The state and AvalonBay had hoped to finalize the deal last month.

Earlier in the day, Marquis called the ruling "good news" and hoped it would move the project forward. Kevin Flanigan, a spokesman for the state Division of Capital Asset Management, called yesterday's ruling "a very positive development."

He said he didn't know when the sale will be finalized.

11-9-05 Judge rules against preservationists Sally Kerans

A judge has denied the Danvers Preservation Fund Inc.'s request for injunctive relief in connection with the sale of the former Danvers State Hospital.

A spokesman for Salem Superior Court Judge Howard Whitehead said yesterday the motion was denied and gave no other details, saying a memorandum would follow.

Danvers Preservation Fund Inc. is seeking to re-open the process which, if not stopped, will lead to the demolition of historic buildings on the former Danvers State Hospital and of two-thirds of the signature Kirkbride building.

Avalon Bay Communites had been scheduled to purchase the property in late October from the state. The developer was then expected to begin demolition at the site as it began building 460 odd residential apartments and condominiums.

The preservationists filed their suit against the Secretary of State as the head of the Massachusetts Historical Commission as well as the town of Danvers and the state Division of Capital Asset Management.

They alleged the state and town had failed to consider the historic value of this site which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Now that the judge has ruled against them, Jim Gilbert, the attorney for the preservation group, said his clients will go to court again next week, this time challenging the town of Danvers' issuance of a demolition permit, which the group contends was unlawfully granted.

"The town violated its own by-law," said Gilbert, referring to the town's historic demolition by-law.

The group succeeded in delaying the scheduled closing on the sale of the property.

Avalon Bay was chosen to develop the site through a process involving the state and the town. "We've had 22 years of process on this," said Town Manager Wayne Marquis at a recent meeting of the Board of Selectmen.

But Gilbert says his clients weren't included.

"Twenty-two years of flawed process isn't process," said Gilbert.

At issue in the lawsuit brought by Gilbert for Danvers Preservation Fund, Inc. is whether state agencies took historic value into proper account during the process. They say a public hearing on the adverse effect of tearing down the Kirkbride never happened, as required by law.

10-27-05 State hospital fate still in limbo Chris Cassidy

Danvers State Hospital has dodged the wrecking ball — for now.

Yesterday, a judge heard arguments from all parties involved in the pending sale of the 77-acre property, including a preservationist group demanding it be stopped.

Judge Howard Whitehead will rule on the fate of the abandoned hospital "in a matter of days," he said yesterday. Until then, a temporary restraining order blocking the transaction and demolition of most of the quarter-mile-wide Kirkbride building will remain in place.

A group of local preservationists, incorporated as the Danvers Preservation Fund Inc., is trying to block the sale, claiming the state violated federal and state historic preservation laws by not allowing public input in the process.

"We're about to tear down a building that's on the National Register of Historic Places," the attorney for the preservationists, James Gilbert, told the judge yesterday. "It's worth taking the time to make sure we've crossed the t's and dotted the i's."

The proposed sale of Danvers State Hospital to developer AvalonBay has raised questions over which side has the public's interest at heart: preservationists intent on saving a 130-year-old former mental hospital's Gothic-style architecture or developers whose project would create affordable housing units and add between $300,000 and $400,000 in tax revenues to the town.

Town Manager Wayne Marquis has said AvalonBay will also contribute $1 million to the town for school building projects, $500,000 for historic restoration projects and $500,000 to build affordable housing.

Michael Dolan, the attorney representing the town, said yesterday that Danvers stands to lose $3 million if the sale is blocked. Seventy affordable housing units are also expected to be added to the town's stock.

"If the transaction isn't completed, the public interest will be removed by a few individuals who think they know better," Dolan said.

Jeffrey Collins, the attorney representing the state, said two independent experts hired in 2002 suggested the building should be razed. A third expert commended the sale proposal for preserving even 100,000 square feet of the Kirkbride building. (Under the current proposal, AvalonBay would preserve a portion of the Kirkbride).

He said one of the experts even predicted the building would collapse in two to five years.

Collins said more than 30 public meetings about the hospital sale have been held in Danvers, including some with citizen advisory committees. The Massachusetts Historical Commission has been involved in the process since 1982, he said.

Meanwhile, Gilbert charged that state agencies either ignored or neglected required statutes when they approved AvalonBay's proposal to knock down portions of the Kirkbride. The Danvers Preservation Fund now stands as the most vocal group opposing the project.

"We are essentially citizens standing in place of a state agency," Gilbert told the judge.

Preservationists have said they don't oppose the idea of developing the site, as long as the architecture that has drawn artists, filmmakers and history buffs is preserved.

Gilbert suggested additional money AvalonBay has pledged to parties like the town was really an offer in exchange for their cooperation in the sale process.

"This is a company that went around and floated money to everyone. ... If they took that money and put it into preservation, we could save that structure," Gilbert said.

In May, AvalonBay received clearance to build 419 apartments and 64 condominiums on the site of the former insane asylum, which closed in 1992. If the sale goes through, the first apartments could open by the late summer or early fall of 2006, with project completion scheduled for late 2007


10-23-05 Former Danvers hospital sale stalls
Kathy McCabe

Local preservationists and the developer wanting to buy Danvers State Hospital will meet in court Wednesday for a hearing to determine whether the sale should be delayed until a trial can rule on whether historic preservation laws have been violated.

Superior Court Judge Howard Whitehead temporarily blocked the sale of the 19th-century hospital to AvalonBay Communities Inc. after preservationists filed a suit arguing that the town and state have not complied with historic preservation laws that could save much of the property from the wrecking ball.

AvalonBay Communities Inc., a Virginia company with local offices in Quincy, plans to build 497 housing units on the campus, which is listed on state and national historic registers.

In its lawsuit, the Danvers Preservation Fund Inc., a nonprofit formed by local residents, argued that the town and state, particularly the Massachusetts Historical Commission, did not allow enough public input into the redevelopment plan, or consider its impact on historic preservation. Of particular concern to preservationists is the future of the Kirkbride building. The Gothic structure, on a hilltop overlooking Route 1, is one of the most prominent structures in Danvers.

On Wednesday, all parties are due in Salem Superior Court for a hearing to determine whether the restraining order should remain in place until a trial can be held. If the sale is allowed to proceed, preservationists say a valuable piece of architectural history in Danvers will be lost.

''We don't want people 100 years from now looking at pictures of the Kirkbride and saying, 'Why did those stupid people get rid of such an architectural gem?' " said Richard Trask, the town archivist, who said he joined the lawsuit as a private citizen.

The suit alleges that the Massachusetts Historical Commission failed to hold a public hearing, as required by law, before agreeing to the demolition of most of the hospital campus, including part of the Kirkbride. The suit also alleges the state Division of Capital Asset Management, which holds title to all state real estate, allowed the building to deteriorate since the psychiatric hospital closed in 1992.

Spokesmen for each state agency declined to comment on the lawsuit, citing a general policy of not discussing pending litigation.

The Kirkbride, built in 1874, is a brick-and-granite structure, standing 3 1/2 stories and running a quarter of a mile in length. It is considered a fine example of 19th-century Victorian Gothic architecture and is a key reason the hospital campus was added to the National Historic Register in 1984, preservationists said.

''It's a gem," said John Archer, a preservationist and critic of AvalonBay's redevelopment plan. ''Nothing like this will ever be built again."

AvalonBay has agreed to preserve 100,000 square feet of the Kirkbride, including the main facade and administration building. The space would be incorporated into its plan to build apartments and condominiums on the main portion of the 77-acre property.

''It's not a small amount of space," said Scott Dale, a vice president at AvalonBay. He rejected the notion that the public did not have enough say. ''It's been a very long public process," Dale said. ''I believe there has been ample input from everyone."

Debate over preserving the Kirkbride has been long running. It first surfaced in the mid-1990s, when reuse plans for the shuttered hospital were first talked about with town officials. Special state legislation placed conditions on the sale of the property, aimed at preventing a private developer from snapping up choice state real estate without guaranteeing community benefit.

AvalonBay has agreed to pay about $2.3 million for education, affordable housing, and historic preservation in Danvers, and mental health services in Essex County. Danvers stands to gain an estimated $300,000 to $400,000 in annual tax revenues from the site's redevelopment. In addition to housing, AvalonBay plans 100,000 square feet of commercial development on the lower portion of the hospital site, near Route 62.

The legislation also required that a special citizens committee in Danvers review plans proposed by developers, and make a recommendation to the town. The committee three years ago approved the developer's preservation of 100,000 square feet of the Kirkbride, as opposed to losing the whole building.

Michael Lehane, Danvers town counsel, said the citizens advisory committee shows the town did allow for public input. ''The committee was meant to represent the town's broader interests," he said.

Preservationists disagreed, and said they were shut out and have no recourse but to turn to the courts.

''They wouldn't listen to our arguments," said Kathryn Morano, a former chairwoman of the Danvers Preservation Commission, a town board. ''We believe that much more of that property can be preserved . . . From day one, they didn't want to listen. . . . That's why the very issues we raised are now before a judge."

10-21-05 Arrest Log A 16-year-old boy was arrested and charged with driving without a license, trespassing and driving an unregistered motor vehicle after police investigated a trespassing complaint at the shuddered Danvers State Hospital property. State, along with Danvers police, intercepted a group of approximately 15 youths, before they went onto the property around 10:40 p.m.

10-20-05 Danvers State sale put on hold; hearing scheduled for Wednesday

A judge yesterday temporarily stopped the multimillion dollar sale of Danvers State Hospital, two days before the deal was set to close.

It's a reversal of a decision handed down the day before, when a preservationists group, incorporated as the Danvers Preservation Fund Inc., failed to persuade the judge to block the impending sale.

Judge Howard Whitehead ordered a temporary restraining order on the sale of the abandoned former asylum, after the preservationists revised their legal complaint yesterday. The group changed its complaint to include developer AvalonBay as a defendant and to list the preservationists by name.

"We're very pleased," said James Gilbert, the attorney representing the preservationists Kathryn Morano, John Archer and Wayne Eisenhauer. "We listened to the judge's concerns yesterday. We were very quick to address them and get back into court. ... It's an important first step."

A hearing is scheduled for next Wednesday, when Gilbert will ask a judge to prevent the sale until the state complies with certain obligations, including holding hearings and examining the sale's impact on historic preservation, he said.

"We would anticipate that if the judge issues a preliminary injunction, it would be quite some time before the transfer could take place," Gilbert said.

The state had hoped to complete the sale of the 77-acre property tomorrow, according to Kevin Flanigan, a spokesman for the state Division of Capital Asset Management. AvalonBay plans to turn the former state hospital property into condos and apartments.

Flanigan declined to comment on yesterday's developments, saying the office had not yet received court documents and does not typically comment on litigation.

AvalonBay Vice President Scott Dale said he was disappointed with the eleventh-hour ruling but remained optimistic the project would soon proceed as originally designed.

"It is another hurdle that we'll have to get over to move the project forward," Dale said.

Dale said several parties tied to the project have worked together for years to devise a concept they could stand behind.

"During the process, everyone has compromised to get to a solution, to get to an economically viable development proposal," Dale said. "That's the way things get done. People compromise."

The hospital, closed in the early 1990s, has long been the fascination of fright-seekers and so-called "urban explorers" who break in to take pictures in the eerie, abandoned building.

Danvers officials long ago warned conditions inside the hospital are treacherous: Ceilings have collapsed, and floors have gaping holes.

Delaying the sale would further jeopardize the portion of the property's flagship structure, the Kirkbride Building, that AvalonBay plans to maintain, Dale said.

"Weather and elements of the environment are taking their toll on the building week by week, and another winter of the building being exposed to the elements will not help," he said.

Archer, an outspoken critic of the AvalonBay project and member of the Danvers Preservation Fund, said he was "thrilled" with the ruling.

"When you fight a huge corporation like AvalonBay, you're dealing with some extremely bright, clever lawyers who are responsible to their stockholders. ... We are not driven by a monetary gain as they are. We're truly an altruistic group."

Archer said his group isn't against the idea of creating housing on the site but would like to see the architecture of the 130-year-old, Gothic-style Kirkbride building preserved. Its eight wings stretch a quarter-mile across the crown of Hathorne Hill and can be seen from Route 1 and Interstate 95.

"There's right and wrong, and we're right," Archer said.

Late yesterday afternoon, Town Manager Wayne Marquis said his office had not received notice of the restraining order. But he said town attorneys would be present at Wednesday's hearing and remained confident the sale would proceed.

"At this point there have been so many ups and downs and twists and turns, I'm not surprised by anything," Marquis said.

The town stands to benefit from an estimated $300,000 to $400,000 in additional property taxes that will come with the development, Marquis said.

The developer has also pledged another $2.3 million to the town, including $1 million for school building projects, $500,000 for historic projects like the restoration of Town Hall and $500,000 to build the town's affordable housing stock.

The remaining $300,000 is expected to be spent on the renovation of playing fields behind the Thorpe School.

10-20-05 Sale of Danvers State Hospital stopped by Sally Kerans

The attorney for Danvers Preservation Fund, Inc. won a temporary restraining order Wednesday morning halting the sale of the former Danvers State Hospital to Avalon Bay, a developer of apartment complexes.

Salem Superior Court judge Howard Whitehead yesterday granted a temporary restraining order sought by Danvers Preservation, Inc., which prohibits the sale or transfer of the property at least until Wednesday, Oct. 26, said attorney Jim Gilbert, attorney for the group challenging the legality of the process leading to the sale of the former Danvers State Hospital.

The sale had been scheduled for tomorrow, Oct. 21.

The multi-acre site in the Hathorne section of Danvers contains 40 buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places, in particular, the eight-winged Kirkbride building at the summit of the hill.

The suit names the Commonwealth of Massachusetts' Division of Capital Asset Management, Massachusetts Historical Commission and its chairman, Secretary of State William Galvin, and the Town of Danvers. It alleges that laws protecting historic structures were ignored in the decade-long process of disposition of the property.

Gilbert said Judge Whitehead ordered all parties back in court next Wednesday, Oct. 26.

"At least we got over the first hurdle," said Gilbert.

10-14-05 Hospital suit goes forward By Sally Kerans

The Danvers Preservation Fund Inc. will file suit in Essex Superior Court as early as tomorrow in hopes of delaying the scheduled Oct. 21 sale of the Danvers State Hospital to developer Avalon Bay, their attorney said yesterday.

"We're definitely going forward," said Jim Gilbert, attorney for the non-profit group which has hired Gilbert to press their case against the state agencies charged with safeguarding the historic buildings on the site of the former Danvers Insane Asylum.

The Danvers Preservation Fund Inc. last week asked the Division of Capital Asset Management (DCAM) to impose a voluntary delay of the sale in order to review the process.

This week, DCAM told Gilbert they saw no reason to postpone the Oct. 21 closing date.

Gilbert said it was a typical response from a government agency that has no interest in working with historic preservationists.

Gilbert and his clients contend that Massachusetts Historical Commission failed to carry out its duties as the historic preservation guardian of the state's important historic assets. Specifically, the agency failed to follow statutory requirements for public input in determining that demolition of the buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places would have an adverse effect.

That charge was disputed by Secretary of State William Galvin's office.

"Of all of the parties that were involved, my greatest disappointment was with the MHC," said Richard Trask, who is not a member of the Danvers Preservation Fund Inc. but has made a financial contribution to the fund. Trask is the Town of Danvers Archivist and is careful to separate his official duties from his personal historic advocacy.

"When they're talking about taking a national historic area of 40 buildings, destroying 39 of them, and then destroying two thirds of the 40th, including not keeping the roof and the first 20 courses of bricks, then if that's historic preservation, I'm in the wrong business," said Trask.

Trask said he was not aware of a single time anyone local was asked by Massachusetts Historical Commission for input or comment on Danvers State Hospital.

The hospital was closed in 1992. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. A multi-year process resulted in rezoning the property for residential development on top of Hathorne Hill, where the Kirkbride building, chapel, and other buildings are located, and commercial development at the bottom. The developer finally chosen for the project is Avalon Bay Communities.

Demolition of buildings would occur in the first phase of the development.

Trask says interest in Danvers State among people who contact the Archives has surpassed geneology over the past year.

The witchcraft hysteria and subsequent executions is still the top topic of interest.


10-06-05 Danvers State suit on hold By Sally Kerans

It took the threat of legal action, but local preservationists may finally be heard on the fate of the majestic Kirkbride and other historic buildings at Danvers State Hospital.

The state agency in charge of selling Danvers State Hospital has asked the attorney for the Danvers Preservation Fund, Inc. to hold off filing suit so the agency can review the pending sale to Avalon Bay, signaling a possible delay in the sale, set for the end of this month.

The citizen-led non-profit preservation group informed the state's Division of Capital Asset Management (DCAM) and the Massachusetts Historical Commission (MHC) last week they will file a law suit if necessary to ensure that the process for demolishing historic buildings spelled out in state law was followed in the Danvers State Hospital deal.

The state hospital is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and under the purview, therefore, of the Massachusetts Historical Commission.

DCAM is in charge of all state assets, including their maintenance as well as their disposition.

"At the end of the day, nobody is ever going to hold up the Danvers State Hospital process and say, 'this is how we do historic preservation,'" said Danvers Preservation Fund, Inc. attorney Jim Gilbert this week.

The group is prepared to argue in court if necessary that the Massachusetts Historical Commission failed to hold hearings and issue a determination of "adverse effect" or "no adverse effect" of demolishing the buildings, as state law says it must for any buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

"Even if it turned out, at the end of the day, that Kirkbride couldn't be saved, at least there would have been a public process," said Gilbert.

That process has been a source of frustration for many.

"We've tried to cover every angle possible," said Town Archivist Richard Trask in an earlier interview about past efforts to save the Kirkbride building. With no success, the local preservationists finally hit upon the idea of filing suit against the state agencies in charge of the property, he said. Although he is not a member of the group suing, he fully supports its efforts, he said

Massachusetts Historical Commission's chairman is the Secretary of State, William Galvin. His office disputes the charge that MHC didn't follow the law.

"Massachusetts Historical followed the process to the nth degree," said Galvin spokesman Michael Maresco. Maresco said that Massachusetts law provides MHC with a role that is "consultative" in nature and does not give the entity veto power.

Maresco said MHC consulted with DCAM throughout the process, and did, in fact, hold a hearing before it made its finding of adverse effect.

He said MHC also recommended a developer other than the one chosen, Archstone, and that Secretary of State Galvin sent a letter in May 2002 to DCAM commissioner David Perini objecting to plans to demolish vast sections of the Kirkbride building.

Only DCAM can unilaterally stop the sale voluntarily, according to Gilbert.

A DCAM representative said the agency would respond in writing about the sale in the near future.

Avalon Bay did not return calls before press deadline.

10-04-05 Police arrest amateur ghost hunter on Danvers State Hospital grounds By Andy Smith

Amateur ghost hunter Matthew X said he heard swirling noises and faint screams on the grounds of Danvers State Hospital as he was investigating claims the old asylum is haunted.

Then he heard his Miranda rights.

Matthew X , 33, and two friends were charged over the weekend with trespassing on the grounds.

Matthew said he and his friends never noticed any "no trespassing" signs when they took a back road to reach the deserted site of the 127-year-old state psychiatric hospital.

They were there to make a videotape to send to the Atlantic Paranormal Society, which investigates haunted sites for the Sci-Fi Channel's "Ghost Hunters."

Danvers is haunted by paranormal enthusiasts, if not by ghosts.

Since the hospital closed in 1991, scores have visited the Victorian Gothic building. At least 20 unauthorized visitors have been arrested this year alone.

Matthew, a computer technician, said he and his friends never entered the building, but did experience strange sensations on the grounds that he described as "major discomfort."

"Basically, when we were up there, we got the presence," he said. "We felt the energy."

State police arrested Matthew along with Ross X, 34, of West Peabody and Matt X, 24, of Salem, Mass., on Saturday about 6:30 p.m.

State police could not provide records on the number of trespassing arrests they have made at the site. But Danvers police said they have arrested 17 people for trespassing at the hospital this year.

Sgt. Robert Bettencourt said the site's popularity was fueled by Internet rumors and the 2001 release of "Session 9," a film about a haunted hospital that was shot at the site. The film's star, David Caruso, has said he saw something unexplainable pass by a hospital window during the shoot. He called Danvers "the scariest building in America."

"This has been going on for a few years now," Bettencourt said of the uninvited visitors. "Danvers people knew about the place all along, but that movie and the Internet got the word out there."

Matthew said he and his friends often visit sites that are suspected of hosting paranormal activity. He said they undertake their visits with a "critical" atitude, never assuming they will encounter anything unusual.

However, Danvers State Hospital had an undeniable level of activity.

Matthew said he heard faint screaming. Gordon said a leafless tree was another sign of the supernatural.

"In the middle of the courtyard, there was one tree that looked dead, but it wasn't," Gordon said. "And all the other trees were in full bloom."

The men said they are scheduled to be arraigned tomorrow in Salem (Mass.) District Court.

The hospital property is owned by the state and is open for tours once a month.

AvalonBay, a development company, is buying the property for $20 million with plans to build apartments.

10-03-05 "Ghost hunters" arrested in former state hospital By Ben Hellman

State police arrested three self-styled ghost hunters — who were armed with a video camera — inside Danvers State Hospital Saturday night.

Police charged the videotaping trio with trespassing. Charged were: Matthew X, 33, of 770 Martin St., North Andover; Ross X 34, of 3604 Woodbridge St., West Peabody; and Matthew X, 24, of 3 Granite St., Salem.

The men told police they had seen the building in a horror film, said Sgt. Robert Favuzza.

"Can you imagine that?" Favuzza said. "They didn't have anything better to do on a Saturday night."

The men were arrested in the Bonner Building by Trooper Scott Grimes, Favuzza said.

Parts of the old state psychiatric hospital were built in the Victorian Gothic style complete with spires and towers, and has remained a curiosity for ghost hunters, artists and others.. The Bonner Building, built in 1955, appeared in the 2001 horror film "Session 9," starring David Caruso. According to IMDB.com, the actor said he saw something unexplained pass by his window during the filming of the movie.

Interest in the hospital has increased as plans for its demolition are finalized. The property development company AvalonBay is in the process of buying the property for $20 million and plans to build apartments on the property.


9-30-05 Hospital sale could be stalled by legal action
By Sally Kerans

Barring a voluntary agreement to delay the sale of the Danvers State Hospital, Danvers Preservation Fund Inc. will file suit in Essex Superior Court next week charging that state agencies failed to enforce applicable laws.

"While my clients would prefer to avoid litigation in this matter, the failure of the state agencies ... leave my clients with little choice but to seek intervention of the courts," Attorney James G. Gilbert wrote in a letter dated Sept. 28.

Gilbert specifically mentioned the Massachusetts Historical Commission, the state Division of Capital Asset Management and the town of Danvers all had failed their obligations to preserve "this important historic site for future generations."

Gilbert said this week that his client will not sue if the state and developer AvalonBay voluntarily delay the sale, due in late October. If no response is forthcoming by tomorrow, he said, the suit will be filed.

An anonymous donation of $10,000, to Danvers Preservation Fund Inc., along with other contributions from people angry over the possible demolition of two-thirds of the closed Kirkbride building, has enabled the non-profit to retain counsel to stop the demolition, said members of Danvers Preservation Fund Inc., which includes current and former members of the town's Preservation Commission.

The hospital closed in 1992. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. A multi-year process resulted in rezoning the property for a two-pronged development, including residential on top of Hathorne Hill at the hospital and commercial on the bottom.

Avalon Bay Communites received local and state approval for 433 apartments and 60 condominiums, but won the ire of preservationists by proposing the demolition of two-thirds of the historic Kirkbride building.

The company is scheduled to assume ownership of the property in October. Demolition of buildings would occur in the first phase of the development.

Avalon Bay Vice President Scott Dale would not comment on the suit.

"The process wasn't right," said Kathryn Morano, former Danvers Preservation Commission chairwoman.

"All along, people weren't doing the right thing, from Massachusetts Historical Commission, to DCAM, to the town of Danvers," said Morano. She said the result is "a nondescript, overly dense development that wasn't at all what Town Meeting (members) thought they were voting for when they approved the zoning changes," she said.

Town Meeting approved zoning changes to allow a number of uses on the site.

Morano said she and her fellow preservationists aren't happy about their decision to file suit, but had no choice, since every attempt to enlist state and local support for preserving the site was "stonewalled."

"It was like the (Preservation) Commission was an annoying little wasp that had to be swatted, " she said of the commission's efforts to preserve the site. "Now the hive is agitated, and they have to deal with the whole hive," she said.

Gilbert says the suit will challenge repeated instances where state agencies, including the Division of Capital Asset Management and the Massachusetts Historic Commission, ignored the laws they should have upheld.

"We think there's a significant argument that (these) state agencies failed to follow the statute, and any time that happens, injunctive relief is proper, " said Gilbert. "We think we can convince a judge of that."

If a judge agrees, Gilbert said, development of the site could be delayed until all applicable state laws were complied with.

Decision to sue

The decision to pursue legal action is a major step for the group, which was established in 1994 and is also working to restore the Danvers Plains Train Station. It includes Morano, John Archer, Wayne Eisenhauer, Walter Sherwood and Charles Wilson. Morano said only Wilson opposed the decision to purse legal action.

The group is counting on the widespread appeal which the Danvers State saga has attracted will to continue to translate into financial support of the group's effort, chiefly through its Web site, www.kirkbridebuildings.org.

"I don't think any of us is happy about this," she said. "But there has to be a reckoning."

The Danvers State Hospital was closed in 1992 . Responsibility for its disposition was given to the state's Division of Capital Asset Management (DCAM).

After extensive interaction among state and local agencies and a citizens advisory committee, legislation was passed in 1997 to allow for its sale. While minimum preservation requirements were included, along with provisions for re-use that called for care or housing of people with mental illness, those were largely ignored, preservationists said.

"They literally just ignored key elements written into the legislation to preserve the Kirkbride Building," said Wayne Eisenhauer, a founding member of Danvers Preservation Fund, Inc.

Archstone Development won the bid to develop the site in part because of its stated commitment to preserve the Kirkbride, the signature, neo-Gothic structure on the 77-acre campus which straddles Danvers and Middleton. But Archstone quickly backed away from its commitment to preservation, citing cost.

Avalon Bay was chosen by DCAM to develop the site. According to Avalon's Scott Dale, 105,000 square feet of the Kirkbride will be preserved.

Former Massachusetts Historical Commission member William Tinti of Salem told the Herald, "I think buildings on the National Register should be preserved and not demolished."

9-28-05 Preservationists look to court to block Danvers State sale By Andrew Hickey

A group of local preservationists is preparing a lawsuit that could block the sale of Danvers State Hospital to AvalonBay Communities, a developer.

The suit, expected to be filed within the next few days on behalf of the Danvers Preservation Fund, contends two state agencies failed to follow the law by allowing a historic site to be torn down, said Salem lawyer James Gilbert, who is representing the preservation fund.

"They completely ignored their statutory obligations and a historic structure is now designated for demolition," said Gilbert, referring to the Massachusetts Historical Commission and the Division of Capital Asset Management.

Brian McNiff, a state Historical Commission spokesman, said yesterday he couldn't comment until he sees the lawsuit. The Division of Capital Asset Management could not be reached for comment.

Gilbert said he hopes the suit will prevent the nearly $20 million sale of Danvers State Hospital to AvalonBay or at least open up a line of communication that would lead to preserving the imposing Kirkbride building.

"The ultimate goal is to preserve the historic buildings that are located on this property," he said. "It does appear our only option at this point in time to save these buildings is to initiate litigation."

Gilbert continued: "We think we have a pretty strong argument. We think we can prevent the sale."

The Kirkbride, a quarter-mile-long brick and granite fortress, is the hospital's main attraction. The towers and spires — signatures of the high Victorian Gothic architecture — can be seen from Route 1 and Interstate 95. The Kirkbride has been a draw for artists, filmmakers and urban explorers since the hospital closed its doors in 1992.

In May, AvalonBay received approval to build 419 apartments and 64 condominiums on the site of the shuttered former asylum that has loomed atop Hathorne Hill for 130 years. Under AvalonBay's plans, one-third of the Kirkbride would be preserved. The rest of the Kirkbride and the other 39 buildings on the property would be torn down.

AvalonBay vice president Scott Dale said the company is prepared to close on the 77-acre property by mid- to late October. Demolition could start as soon as Nov. 1. Some apartments could be available by late summer or early fall 2006 and the entire project could be completed by late 2007.

Dale would not comment on the suit yesterday.

Gilbert said when the suit is filed, he will seek a temporary restraining order to put all of AvalonBay's plans on hold for a few days. From there, he will seek a preliminary or permanent injunction that would halt development at Danvers State until the injunction is lifted by a judge.

"We are asking that the commonwealth and the developer agree to voluntarily postpone any sale of the property until the government entities have met their statutory obligations," he said.

John Archer, a member of the preservation fund and one of the most vocal people in the fight to save Danvers State, said the group's main focus is saving the Kirkbride.

"It takes an artist to build a building, but it's a jackass that knocks it down," he said, explaining his group's general philosophy.

But Archer said the preservation fund is willing to work out a deal with any developer that will keep the building standing, even if the interior is gutted.

Archer said he'd be pleased "as long as you drive up that driveway and look at the Kirkbride and see that same roofline, that same masterpiece."

The Danvers Preservation Fund, a nonprofit that formed in 1994, has been receiving donations through its Web site, www.kirkbridebuildings.com. It has received support from thousands of people globally and has raised a large amount of money to fund litigation, including a significant anonymous donation, Archer said. An online petition to save Danvers State has received nearly 5,000 signatures.

In its fight to save the hospital, the group has contacted the governor, the lieutenant governor, lawmakers, artists, entertainers and even horror author Stephen King in its battle to preserve Danvers State. They've tried to schedule meetings with AvalonBay brass, but have been unsuccessful.

"Losing this major part of history is a true tragedy," Archer said. "We as preservationists are doing nothing more than that which we should be doing. Meeting in court is now the only alternative we have."

8-9-05 Four arrested for trespassing at Danvers State

Four local teens who police say wanted to check out the shuttered Danvers State Hospital property were arrested late Saturday night and charged with trespassing. Police believe as many as six teens were trespassing on the property, but two ran off into the woods when a patrolman pulled in just before 11pm, said Sgt. Robert Bettencourt, the department spoksman.

The teens captured said "they had heard so much about the place they wanted to see what it was like" Bettencourt said. Justin X, 18 of Middleton, Kevin X, 17 of Danvers, Michael X, 17 of Tewksbury and Francis X 18, of Reading, were all arrested by Patrolman Steve McDonald and charged with trespassing.

However, the four will be able to avoid a criminal record by participating in a young adult diversion program and community service, a prosecutor said yesterday.

Formerly a psychiatric hospital, Danvers State has been closed since 1992 and visitors are barred from the property. Security officers, paid by the state, are posted at the hospital. Local and state police routinely patrol the area as well. But trespassers on the property are a constant problem and officials continually issue warnings about the dangers the dilapidated hospital buildings pose.

"Those buildings just aren't safe" Bettencourt said. "Ceilings have collapsed and floors have given away to gaping holes. Electricity to the buildings was cut long ago. It's not safe. Someone could get in there and get hurt and we wouldn't even know"

Officials believe the main draw of the former asylum is the mystique surrounding the now boarded-up, half mile long Kirkbride building also known as the "castle on the hill"

The Kirkbride building was the hospital's flagship structure during its operation. Development company Avalon Bay is buying the 77-acre property from the state and transforming it into a multimillion-dollar housing development. The company is finalizing traffic plans with the state before it shells out roughly $18 million for the property.

8-5-05 WCVB-TV Channel 5 Boston ran a story on the possible demolition of DSH

Controversy Surrounds Historic Hospital Renovation Portions Of Danvers State Hospital Slated For Demolition.

DANVERS, Mass. -- Developers are planning to convert some of the Danvers State Hospital building into luxury condominiums and apartments, but some are wondering if the building's history is being lost in the renovation.

NewsCenter 5's Anthony Everett reported that the former Danvers State Hospital building is one of the of the North Shore's most stunning and most controversial properties. The massive structure is known for its Gothic architecture and its treatment of the mentally ill.

In 1878, psychiatrist Thomas Kirkbride envisioned it as a respite for the mentally ill, a town within a town, where patients worked and the country air would help mend their minds.

"There are so many levels of sadness losing the building," said Danvers preservationist John Archer.

A large part of the Gothic building will be demolished, Archer said. Closed in 1992 due to budget cuts and severe overcrowding, Avalon Bay Communities plans to develop the property into 500 luxury apartments and condominiums.

"We are preserving 100,000 feet of what is considered the most important part, the Kirkbride Building, the original structure on the site," said William McLaughlin, of Avalon Bay Communities. "And the first wing, essentially, on either side."

Taking old state buildings, many built as asylums, and converting them into housing is a nationwide trend. Archer said saving only a quarter of the massive building is a great architectural and cultural loss.

"It was designed as a quarter-mile building where the sickest were at the end and would work their way back. Tearing it down is like taxidermy," he said.

Danvers State is more notorious than celebrated to most. It is a place where lobotomies were once commonplace, the mentally ill warehoused, and at the end, sleeping in corridors.

"It keeps the idea of the history of the mentally-challenged in our mind. If we remember the history, we won't go back and repeat some of our past mistakes," Archer said.

But developers said the cost of maintaining the entire exterior of the main structure is prohibitive. Avalon Bay has made concessions,including a walking trail with historic markers. The company also agreed to make 15 percent of the apartments affordable housing and offer a few apartments to the mentally challenged community.

"I appreciate and respect the passion, but to the extent we don't develop Danvers State Hospital for an economic use now, those buildings won't be there, the elements have destroyed them, they are set to crumble as we sit here now," said McLaughlin.

Everyone agrees the interior of the entire building, as well as others on the huge 75-acre property, must be gutted. But Archer said preserving more of the exterior, while complicated, should be done. Archer believes that, unlike Europeans, Americans are not taking careto preserve their architectural history.

8-4-05 Another view of Danvers State

It was the State Hospital, or The Hill, or Danvers State, or other names that weren’t so nice. But to Fay Clark Voisine, it was her backyard. Voisine, who still lives in Danvers, grew up on the grounds of Danvers State Hospital where her father, Horace Clark, was responsible for nearly all of the 600 acres of land which comprised the campus of the hospital.

“We had 500 acres of playground, except for the forbidden areas, which we still managed to get to,” said Voisine

Voisine and her brother and sister lived with their parents in the house which now houses the Special Olympics office on Route 62. She and her siblings attended the Hathorne School, a one-room school house.

Their playmates were the children of the other hospital staff who lived on the grounds, physicians Sullivan and Freyer and the superintendent of the hospital campus, the Bonners.

She said they didn’t have many friends over because the stigma of mental illness made people wary of going there.

“The reason the graves don’t have stones is because of the stigma, and their families didn’t want to have them,” she said. “There were horrors and abuses, and yes, they did have naked patients because they couldn’t keep clothes on them,” she said. “So they had an area where patients could get air,” she said. The area was called the bullpen, she said.

While her memories are happy ones, she said, that’s not the case with at least one of her siblings.

“I’m sure they had some staff members who were abusive, but the patients also exercised and they weeded and picked or whatever had to be done,” she said.

“He loved that farm,” Voisine said of her late father, Horace Clark.

His particular pride were his champion cows.

“Anybody that could milk did,” she said. “I have memories of being in the barn and squirting milk.”

Voisine also remembers the underground tunnels built during the war to transport patientsduring air raids.

Voisine said she finds it ironic when concerns about traffic are raised in connection with the now-abandoned site, considering that at its peak of operation in the 1950s and 1960s, there were three shifts of employees coming and going. Of course, when Voisine lived there as a child, Route 62 didn’t exist and what is now the state police barracks was the piggery.

7-28-05 Online petition has 4,030 signatures

Michael Carey used to drive down Route 1 with his parents and look up at Danvers State Hospital.

“I was always fascinated by it,” he said Wednesday morning of the Kirkbride Building that looms tall on Hathorne Hill, impressing those who pass under it and engendering questions about its history. “I think its an amazing old building.”

He’s not alone, something he found out when he started an online petition to save the Kirkbride. This 37-years-old adult who has a responsible job in a bank is also an artist, he said, with an inclination toward cartooning. But, he just couldn’t let the building be even partially demolished without trying to win support for saving it in its entirety.

He started the petition, found at www.petitiononline.com/dssehl/petition, in 2001. As of Wednesday morning, there were 4,030 signatures.

“I’ve been really amazed by the number of signatures,” Carey said. They include people from 49 states and 26 nations.

The petition states:

“The Kirkbride building of Danvers State Hospital is in danger of being destroyed. Located in Danvers, the Kirkbride building was built in the 1870s and was in use until the 1980s. The beautifully gothic building is on the National Register of Historic Places. It was featured in the film, ‘Session Nine.’

“Years of neglect have taken their toll on the structure. Now, several interested parties are pushing to demolish all but a token section of the building in order to capitalize on the valuable land on which the building currently stands.

“The professionals called in by the town historians feel that at least the outside of the building is capable of being saved. The professionals hired by the developer claim that most of the building is beyond repair. Lend your support to this petition, and show that you believe that this unique and beautiful piece of history is worth saving.”

Some of the signatories include the following comments:

“We should not destroy our history.”

“In Europe, places that are historical like that are taken care of. We should do the same.”

“History should be experienced, not just read about in books that describe what used to be.”

“A building of this magnitude should be preserved out of respect to the past. If not, at least turn it into a hotel so I can spend a night there.”

“I want to buy it.”

7-28-05 Preservationists persevere for Kirkbride

Preservationists continue to hope they can save two more wings of the immense Kirkbride building at Danvers State Hospital and have taken their cause to Secretary of State William Galvin.

Galvin is the chairman of the Massachusetts Historical Commission; he’s the man they want to put a stop to the demolition of two-thirds of the 1870s neo-Gothic building that has been the subject of books, the setting for movies, a fantastic landmark for anyone driving along Route 1, as well as a home both lauded and condemned for the mentally ill.

On Wednesday, June 29, local preservationists John Archer and Richard Trask askedAnnie Harris, director of the Essex National Heritage Commission, to join them for a meeting in Boston with Galvin. They met, not with Galvin, to Archer’s consternation, but with his assistant Michael Maresco and with Cara Metz, the director of the Massachusetts Historical Commission.

Metz is leaving next week, as it turns out, but that agency has done little to date anyway, both Archer and Trask said separately.

“It’s been a flawed process from day one,” said Archer on Wednesday.

He, Trask and Harris believe Galvin can still make headway with the Division of Capital Asset Management, which oversees the disposition of all state land, particularly since their meeting seems to have encouraged a letter from Galvin to David Perini, the commissioner of DCAM, Archer said.

The letter, dated July 11, asks for an update on the project status, noting the secretary’s concern about “demolition by neglect” and the lack of any visible efforts “to rehabilitate any portion of the highly visible Kirkbride Building.”

Galvin also mentions in the letter a report resulting from his earlier inquiries about the building. That report “suggested that the structural integrity of the Kirkbride Building was compromised, and that without heroic measures, only the central portion could be retained.”

Meanwhile, Scott Dale, the vice president of the development company Avalon Bay Communities, was nonchalant in his response during a phone interview Tuesday about the latest preservationist effort.

“This has been ongoing,” he said.

He expects the latest effort will not affect the date, set for late September, with the state’s Division of Capital Asset Management to sign the papers and take possession of the building for some $18 million.

The company, contrary to some fears, will not take down 30 courses of brick, which would amount to almost a whole story of the building, he said.

“We would not remove or replace any brick that does not require it,” Dale said.

The company has conducted extensive investigations of the masonry, and there is some significant damage in some places, particularly in some eaves, but much of the brick can be repointed or repaired.

“We are going to do a very spectacular job with the renovations, maybe not in exact materials, but certainly in the look of the building,” Dale said about the efforts the company will make to preserve one-third of the Kirkbride.

Trask and Archer want not just these assurances, but also two more wings of the Kirkbride saved. According to Trask, the wing next to one the company has promised to save is actually in better condition.

“I feel it’s an important historic building,” said Harris separately, which was why she accompanied Trask and Archer to Boston. Had the appraisal process included the requirement to factor in preservation, it may have ended with a more accurate and smaller price tag on the property, since preservation costs a lot, she said.

Avalon Bay is not in this business of preservation, she added. But, she is not without hope.

“Hanging in there sometimes helps,” she said about efforts to preserve.

Archer, meanwhile, continues to argue that the zoning was changed in order to ensure the re-use and preservation of the Kirkbride.

“It’s a scrappy business,” he said of preservation. “I’m a realist, however. If a building is lost, it’s lost and you move on to the next one,” he said.
But, until then, he will fight on.

7-27-05 Wall Street Jouranl article: Yesterday's Grim Asylums,Tomorrow's Grand Apartments

DANVERS, Mass. -- Perched on a hill and surrounded by forests and hay fields sits an imposing brick structure that one visitor called "the scariest building in North America." It's the former Danvers State Hospital, the setting of a 2001 horror movie and a painful reminder of the brutalities of institutionalized mental-health care.

Now, Danvers State is shedding its past. AvalonBay Communities Inc., a leading U.S. real-estate developer, plans to build 497 high-end apartments and condos on the 75-acre property, located just north of Boston. The company is building an additional 387 rental units and a
nine-hole golf course at another former mental hospital in another Boston suburb.

Around the U.S. and in Canada, state hospitals that have sat largely empty since mental-health care was deinstitutionalized in the 1980s have become a developer's dream in a hot housing market: huge tracts of land located in or around large cities, such as New York,
Vancouver and Columbia, S.C.

It's another example of surplus government property being converted to commercial use. But these projects are complicated because of what the state hospitals represent to the mental-health community and in popular culture.

Officials in South Carolina are planning the redevelopment of a 178-acre state-hospital campus in the heart of Columbia, the state capital. They want to save one brick building with the word "Asylum" chiseled in the facade. The building, according to some locals, was designed to block out moonlight, which was thought to exacerbate some mental conditions. "It's potentially the greatest development opportunity Columbia has ever seen," says Columbia's mayor, Bob
Coble.

Outside Vancouver, British Columbia, 1,100 condos are being built on the site of another former asylum. In rural Dover, N.Y., a developer has bought the 850-acre Harlem Valley Psychiatric Center, a sprawling property located about 80 miles north of New York City.
And in Detroit, the marketing firm Sperry Van Ness will auction 414 acres of a former psychiatric hospital campus on Aug. 30; the property sits directly across from a Home Depot, and near shopping centers and restaurants.

Early on, William McLaughlin, a senior vice president for development at AvalonBay, who grew up near Danvers, wondered whether the hospital's past would make potential renters and condo buyers
wary.

"If you grew up in Danvers and you remember it as the spooky place on the hill, it might not be the right place to live," says Mr. McLaughlin. "But I think there is a mix of folks that are going to want to live in a very cool place."

AvalonBay is convinced Danvers State will become a "showcase" for attractive and respectful reuse. The company plans to convert about a fourth of the massive, Gothic hospital building into loft apartments with towering ceilings and exposed brick. New apartment buildings will surround the original hospital and condos will line the edge of the property. At the bottom of the hill, AvalonBay will likely build offices. All the other buildings will be razed.There will be a pool, a fitness center and a field for pickup soccer and football games. Average rents for two-bedroom units will range from $1,750 to $2,000 a month. Condos will be marketed for $300,000 to $400,000.

It's a far cry from how the hospital appeared one morning last week: The windows and doors were boarded up, roofs sagged and the pathways
were overgrown with weeds. It was deeply quiet save for the rustle of wild turkeys wandering the grounds.

Danvers was the setting for the horror movie "Session 9," about a worker who goes insane while removing asbestos from the hospital. "It's the scariest building in North America," actor David Caruso, who starred in the movie, told AboutFilm.com. "It was always scary, and you could really feel the pain of the people that were at Danvers." Mr. Caruso said.

A group of former patients and advocates for the mentally ill want AvalonBay to construct a museum on the site to chronicle the hospital's difficult history. "I want the public to know how cruel some of the treatment was," says Judith Robbins, who was first an employee and later a patient at Danvers.

Her father was also a patient at Danvers after World War II. She remembers that he twice broke his collar bone during his stay there. The hospital explained that he was hurt playing baseball. "I don't think so," Mrs. Robbins says.

Danvers State -- like many state hospitals -- was founded in the 19th century on the idea that the mentally ill could be helped by moving out of cities and into more bucolic settings of farm fields and Victorian gardens.

With its Gothic architecture and sweeping vistas, Danvers State was particularly grand. Over time, conditions deteriorated. Patients, often misdiagnosed and misunderstood, might be "people who were homeless or a little odd or children who were incorrigible," says Richard Trask, the town archivist.

In the 20th century, patients were being treated with lobotomies, electric shock and water immersion. By midcentury, patients were sleeping in corridors because of over-crowding.

Hundreds of patients were buried in two cemeteries on the hospital grounds in graves marked with stone cylinders and numbers. After the hospital closed in 1992, a group of former patients and advocates used medical records to identify the graves and put up headstones. But many records had disappeared.

"If we don't tell this story, we are going to repeat it," says Pat Deegan, who helped restore the cemeteries and wants a museum on the site.

AvalonBay says a museum is impractical. Instead, the company proposes building an outdoor memorial with a series of plaques explaining the history.

AvalonBay is buying the Danvers hospital from the state for about $20 million. Of that, $4.2 million is going to pay for housing for the mentally ill elsewhere in the state and $2 million to the town of Danvers for local schools, historic preservation projects and affordable housing around town.

Some units will be set aside as affordable housing, and 2% of the total development -- about 10 apartments -- will be reserved for people with mental illness. The company must also maintain access to the cemeteries.

Local preservationists wanted AvalonBay to save more of the hospital building, which opened in 1878 and is on the National Register of Historic Places. The company doesn't think there is enough demand to renovate all that space.

Town Manager Wayne Marquis praised the developer for saving the one main building while also maintaining open space. "It's striking a balance of all interests," he says.

Mrs. Robbins left Danvers State as a patient in the early 1990s. She would like to move back to the hill to live in the new development. She likes the idea of having a pool and the promise of a nice view. "It's going to be beautiful and new," Mrs. Robbins says.

7-22-05 Eisenhauer: Historic Danvers, Inc. releases endangered property list

Historic Danvers, Inc. is a newly formed non-profit organization established for the purposes of aiding the preservation of the town’s history and the town’s historical assets primarily by fostering the education of the public about:

(a) The history of the town of Danvers and the historic assets associated with such history;

(b) The importance of preserving such historic assets; and

(c) The preservation needs of, and, threats to, such historic assets.

Sadly, and slowly, the town is losing the historic structures, streetscapes and landscapes that are the very fabric of the town and make Danvers so unique and different from Anytown, USA.

And, Historic Danvers announces its first Endangered List.

Endangered

#1 Kirkbride building, Danvers State Hospital

At the time of the disbanding of the Citizens Advisory Committee, the Commonwealth, upon the recommendation of the Citizens Advisory Board had selected the national, $5 billion Archstone Communities, based in Colorado, as developer of the Danvers State Hospital site.

In its submission to the state, Archstone had committed to the preservation of the entire exterior of the monumental Kirkbride building that stretches a quarter of a mile and, at the time of its building in the early 1870s, the most expensive and lavish edifice ever built by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

The commitment to preserve the entire exterior of the Kirkbride’s exterior was in keeping with the recommendation of the two town study committees and in keeping with the intent of the Town Meeting in changing the zoning of the State Hospital site.

Archstone later withdrew as developer. Without any further public input, the Commonwealth then chose AvalonBay, a $5 billion, nationwide builder, based in Virginia, as developer -- although AvalonBay’s proposal commits to saving only approximately one-third of the Kirkbride.

It should be noted that since the time the Commonwealth stopped using the Kirkbride building, although a $5 million fund for maintaining and marketing the building and site was part of the legislation authorizing the sale of the State Hospital, the Commonwealth failed to take any steps to maintain the Kirkbride’s roof and, only after a number of years, even bothered to board up the Kirkbride’s windows.Despite such inexcusable neglect, the Kirkbride still stands with practically all its roof intact.

AvalonBay is expected to take title in and begin demolition in September.

The Kirkbride is continually endangered by the state’s neglect to secure the building, especially its roof.The Kirkbride may be endangered in the future where it appears that AvalonBay’s construction expertise is primarily in new construction and not in restoration of historic buildings.2. The national register district comprising the Danvers State Hospital

The Kirkbride building is only one of the 40 buildings listed on the National Register that taken together comprise one of the few National Register Districts in eastern Massachusetts. In addition to demolishing two-thirds of the Kirkbride, there are now no impediments to AvalonBay demolishing these other 39 buildings, some dating to the 1870s, and the expectation is that AvalonBay will demolish practically all, if not all, of these 39 buildings.

The rest of the endangered list can be seen on the Danvers Herald web site.

6-20-05 Neighbors wary of traffic change near Danvers State property

Richard Beauvais remembers when his home was surrounded by wide open fields and quiet streets.

"I remember when you could tie a blindfold around your head and walk across Route 62 with no problem," said Beauvais, who has lived on the road for more than 30 years.

Then came Middleton Jail, traffic from Interstate 95, and now hundreds-more neighbors with the development of the former Danvers State Hospital property.

"But what am I going to do? Start a revolution? Tell some friends to meet me at Concord bridge?" asked Beauvais. "I've been complaining about traffic for years. But there's nothing left to do. Change is inevitable."

Neighbors on the Danvers/Middleton town line are resigned to the construction at the hospital, which is scheduled to be demolished after Avalon's purchase of the property in September, and the traffic it will bring. Plans call for 485 apartments and condominiums to be built in its place.

Avalon Bay's traffic design will shrink the island which currently separates the traffic traveling west and east on Route 62. That island will become two turn lanes that give traffic a separate lane to turn into the state hospital site and the State Police barracks (see map related to the site).

Despite the changes, neighbors like Rose Foster, who as lived on Maple Street for 27 years, are concerned about the constant flow of traffic in and out of the site.

"The traffic from up there is going to be a major problem," Foster said. "We already have quite a bit of traffic from the shopping malls, from the post office, Hogan, the detox, from people coming in and out of Middleton, and then the Aggie consolidating with North Shore Tech, the traffic is going to be a nightmare on this end of town."

She also said the day that Danvers State comes down will be "very sad."

"I'm gong to be sorry to see it go. It's a shame anytime you lose a building with the history that that building has," said Foster.

Since Danvers State closed in 1992, Foster said she has enjoyed fewer cars up and down her street. She only predicts problems from Avalon's plans to revamp the Route 62 and Maple Street interchange

But Avalon Bay Vice President Scott Dale said the residents shouldn't be worried about more traffic. The plan for the busy throughway will improve a dangerous section of town, he said.

"I think the residents will be pleasantly surprised by the lack of traffic," Dale said. "There is not going to be tons of traffic because of the way that this was designed. With the breakdown of commercial, rental and sale property, the traffic is not going to be as much as some people may think. Town planner Evan Belansky added a lot of hard work has gone into the traffic design. Currently before Mass Highway, the state is helping Avalon Bay tweak final designs before the go-ahead for construction is granted. Traffic in the area was studied for a year, and seven different designs were reviewed.

Belansky says he's confident the impact will be minimal.

"A great deal of work has gone on to mitigate the negative impacts," said Belansky. "Will there be traffic near Route 95? There's currently traffic there and there will always be traffic there. But this new traffic design, the new light at that intersection, is going to make that traffic safer."

When the final design is agreed upon - which is expected to be six to nine months down the read - a public hearing will be held so neighbors can get a look at the final design. Belansky says the town's Planning Board has already agreed upon and approved the design they feel will best serve the community.

That design, Belansky says, ensures neighbors, like Beauvais and Foster, are not overburdened with new neighbors driving down their streets.

"I think that people are aware, and have familiarized themselves with the proposal. People near that site have educated themselves about the plan and are comfortable with the work of the (Community Advisory Committee)," said Belansky. "This has been a long process. People know that a great deal of work has gone on here."

"The concept of this local roadway will far exceed what is there today," Dale said.

6-14-05 Ex-patients, allies angry over Danvers State memorial plans

On a bright late-September day three years ago, two long-forgotten cemeteries at Danvers State Hospital were rededicated, giving proper tombstones to many of the 768 patients who previously had small, numbered concrete blocks to mark their final resting places.

It was a rare triumph for a normally quiet and nonpolitical band of people with mental and emotional disorders known as the Danvers State Memorial Committee. And it came after four years of lobbying and pressuring state officials.

Now, members of this informal group say their victory is being marred by the developer slated to build 419 luxury apartments and 64 condominiums atop Hawthorne Hill on the property.

They say Avalon's plan to memorialize the site's history with a patio surrounded by stone walls with storyboards is not nearly enough.

"I want to say it's a slap in the face to put storyboards up. Because how can you describe 150 years of history with storyboards?" said Memorial Committee member Sandra Fallman. "People lived and died there."

During a series of meetings with Avalon last year, members of the Memorial Committee pushed for a "Hall of Remembrance" — a place with video and interactive displays outlining the history of the hospital — to be included in the development.

But as much as ex-patients and their allies want people to "never forget," Avalon is hoping to shake off the image of an oppressive state hospital, said Avalon Vice-President Scott Dale. He doesn't want prospective tenants visiting administrative offices to be confronted with displays of the site's sometimes-dark history.

Danvers State has its share of dark history. It's operating and therapy rooms served now-questionable treatments such as lobotomies, shock treatment and the hydrotherapy that nearly drowned some patients. At times it was overcrowded. And some former patients say some staff members were physically and mentally abusive.

"Those of us who spent time in those places are really fearful that that is a mistake we, as a culture, might remake," said Patricia Degan, who pulled together the Memorial Committee after stumbling across the overgrown cemeteries. "It's the fact that these state hospitals and these human warehouses, all over the United States, represent probably the highest aspirations and ideas of humanity, but also the evil we are capable of."

Degan and her peers had wanted to see their hall either in a few rooms of the Kirkbride — the massive Gothic structure that for 130 years served as the main hospital building — or in a free-standing building on the 75-acre hospital grounds.

The Kirkbride — or at least one-third of it — will be all that remains of the original hospital buildings on Hawthorne Hill after Avalon begins demolition this fall. The central third of Kirkbride will be renovated into high-end apartments, surrounded by other massive apartment buildings and a cluster of townhouses for sale.

Avalon's Dale said a complex "Hall of Remembrance" comes with too many cost and maintenance questions: Who would care for it, and who would be responsible if it were vandalized?

It would also be a reminder of the property's sometimes-shady history.

"I think one of the obstacles that we have always thought about was there (has been) changing the perspective of people's opinion of this site and the facility and overcoming the stigmas of the institution on that site," Dale said. "And to combine a facility that deals with the history and the stigma with our efforts just doesn't seem to be appropriate."

Dale said the patio display, with an estimated cost of $50,000 to $75,000, is in-line with the requirements the state put on bidders for the property. "We are providing free access to people who want to visit the memorial, and we have agreed to maintain the cemeteries on that site, which is a pretty significant commitment," Dale said.

The town green-lighted Avalon's development plans in late May, and Memorial Committee members only learned of Avalon's plans for the storyboard display within the past week. Still, their disappointment will very likely be a featured topic at the "No Surrender" statewide conference for the mentally ill and their advocates Wednesday, Degan said.

Degan said she is hopeful the town might be convinced to use a portion of the $500,000 Avalon will give it for "historic preservation" to build a proper memorial.

Degan and Fallman never lived at the state hospital, but as people who've struggled with mental health issues, the fight to preserve the lessons of Danvers State is personal.

But fellow Memorial Committee member Mark Giles, who was admitted to the hospital in the early 1990s, remembers drug therapies that left him in terrible discomfort. The drugs also left his memory hazy, though he said he can clearly remember some abuses — like the day he watched a staff member beat a helpless older man.

The story of Danvers State isn't an easy or simple one, Giles said. There were bad staff members, but also many who worked hard to help patients, he said. They helped him face his mental illness.

Unlike the other four Memorial Committee members reached this week, Giles said he isn't totally opposed to storyboards. They're "better than nothing," he said, and at least the cemeteries will be kept up.

"Of course we'd like to have the whole hall," he said, "something that could show what happened up there, so we wouldn't be forgotten."

Hospital history:

* 1878: The "Danvers State Lunatic Hospital" is built after a similar hospital shuts down in South Boston, creating a space crunch for hospitals that house the mentally ill.

* 1960s: Changes in medical treatment cause the hospital's incoming patient population to decline.

* 1981: Aware of the hospital's pending closure, local and state officials begin meeting to plan the site's future.

* 1992: The hospital closes.

* 1997: Patricia Degan finds a patient cemetery in a field so overgrown it "looked like a rainforest."

* 1999: The state allocates $38,000 to landscape and put names on graves that could be identified.

* 2001: Archstone Communities is picked from a pool of 11 developers for the redevelopment project. Archstone is to pay $21.7 million for the 75-acre site. It backs out in December 2002, citing rising construction costs and a downturn in the luxury apartment rental market.

* 2003: Avalon steps in to develop the site. The state agrees to sell the property for $18.1 million, in addition to concessions including $1 million for Danvers schools, $4.5 million to house the mentally ill, $500,000 for historic preservation and $500,000 for an affordable housing trust.

* May 2005: Avalon finishes the local approval process. The only hurdle left for the developer is reaching an agreement with MassHighway for the massive project's access on Route 62. Avalon expects to complete its purchase and begin work in September.

5-27-05 Danvers State developer wins town approval


After two long years of negotiations, the Planning Board Tuesday night approved a special permit for development of the highlands at the former Danvers State Hospital, adding four condominiums to prior plans in exchange for the development of one lacrosse field.

The exact location of the field is still to be determined by the Recreation Department and town Planning Department.

Avalon Bay Communities will build 483 residential units, including 419 apartments and 64 condominiums, rather than 60 condos for the 55-plus age group. Density at the site will not change since the 6,000 or so extra square feet needed for these condos will be lopped off the approved 125,000 square feet for development on the lowlands. As previously discussed, the developer will give $1 million to the town for an education trust fund; $t00,000 to the town for historic preservation; and $500,000 to the town for affordable housing, Belansky said Wednesday morning.

The Planning Board certificate mirrors the Land Disposition Agreement signed by the state, which owns the land, Belansky said. The town will now have to enter a separate agreement with the state regarding the trust funds, since the state "has some sort of oversight of the administration of the (trust) funds," Belansky said.

The LDA also included a "recreation component" for the town, Belansky said, which was why ball fields became a topic of conversation.

According to Town Manager Wayne Marquis in a separate interview, the old ball field at the lowlands would not be large enough or meet modern requirements. Therefore, an off site location is needed. The Thorpe School has been mentioned as a possible site, as well as other areas, Marquis said.

Because the area could accommodate two fields, the town decided to find out how much they would cost, said Recreation Director David Mountain separately, and received an estimate of $705,000. But, that included prevailing wage requirements under bidding laws and other constrictions that the town would have to abide by, said Planning Department Director Karen Nelson separately.

We met with the Recreation Committee and planning staff this afternoon, and have come up with a pretty creative plan," Dale told the Planning Board members. "We have come up with a mutually acceptable proposal."

Avalon Bay will provide their construction crew services, or the equivalent cost to them of $300,000, to build one field.

"We and the Recreation Department are very pleased," Mountain said about the commitment.

To offset the costs for this proposal, Dale detailed plans to add four, two-bedroom units to the existing condominium housing plan by converting four proposed duplex units to triplex units.

"We can add another four units without any significant site impact," Dale said.

Additional revenue from the sale of these units will provide the funding for the new field.

Several permit wording details were raised by the board. Among them was a concern raised by board member Jim Sears regarding Avalon Bay's ability to change its design plans during the project and construct more for sale units than originally agreed.

Planning Board Chairman Ronald Baser asserted that Avalon Bay would have to come back before the board for approval on any site changes.

Board member Joseph Younger questioned public access hours to the memorial cemetery and the memorial on the site. Dale agreed to extend hours during the months of May through September from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.

Dale and Avalon Bay's attorney, Steven Schwartz of Goulston & Storrs, reiterated their commitment to the town in the review and development of the lowlands.

Additionally, the board and the developer agreed that an on-site recreational facility would be considered by the developer. Town Manager Wayne Marquis talked about needing language to create the walking/bike trail that has been talked about in the past. Such a trail would encircle the 500 or so acres of the whole property, which would link to the Horace Clark Conservation area, perhaps connect with trails near Swingaway on Route 1, over towards the town's canoe launch off Dayton Street and as close to the Ipswich River as possible.

But, that language will have to wait until the developer appears before the town for approval of plans to develop the lowlands, said Belansky separately.

According to Dale, Avalon Bay has signed the purchase and sale agreement with the state and is scheduled to pass papers some time in September 2005.Groundbreaking at the site will begin shortly thereafter he said.

5-26-05 State hospital developers clear last local hurdle

Danvers-Twenty-four years of political wrangling over the fate of Danvers State Hospital ended Tuesday night, as Planning Board members signed off on plans for 419 apartments and 64 condominiums atop Hathorne Hill. It was the last local approval needed by national development giant AvalonBay communities. All that remains is for AvalonBay to work out traffic issues with the state for an access road on route 62.AvalonBay plans to begin construction in September, after completing it's purchase of the 77-acre state property."It means we can go forward and develop the site and hopefully get revenues from it," Planning Board Chairman Ron Baser said of Tuesday's unanimous vote. "The site really needs development because the state, unfortunately, has totally disregarded the building and left it in total disrepair."AvalonBay will need to demolish about 40 buildings on the hill, which for more than 100 years was something of a self-sufficient village for the mentally ill. At one point, the hospital had its own workshops, farm buildings, chapels, offices, planting fields, houses for doctors and nurses and of course, rooms for hundreds of patients. At the center is the 130-year-old Gothic-style Kirkbride building. Its eight bricked wings dominate a quarter-mile across the crown of Hathorne Hill and are visible form Route 1 and Intersate 95.

The state hospital has long drawn people in search of a good scare, thanks to the abandoned hospital's reputation doe being haunted.Over the past two years, there have been two arson attempts at the site. An effort to save the turrets, sharp jutting peaks and Gothic angles of this unique building has remained at the heart of the opposition to the project. "We continue to be very upset that the very worst preservation nightmare is about to begin," said local history advocate John Archer. He has petitioned the governor's office to intervene and pledged to try to delay the project by "any means possible." Under the approval granted Tuesday, Avalon is responsible only for attempting to save the central third portion of the Kirkbride and can demolish if reuse proves "unfeasible."

However, Avalon will have to reconstruct a facsimile of the central portion if it is knocked down, Town Planner Evan Belansky said.Despite the political fights that swirled about the project in recent years, nobody was at Town Hall to object Tuesday night when the Planning Board banged its gavel on the last in a yearlong series of hearings.The project also has its local supporters. "I think this is a huge step," Planning Board member James Sears said yesterday. "Overall, I think it's going to be a benefit for the town. I think the townspeople were concerned about the effects on water supply, the sewer and schools. We have been assured by statements from (the state) and town engineers that the town can handle that site." Sears and other town officials have said they look forward to the estimated $100,000 in property taxes that will come with the development, along with another $2.3 million the developer has pledged to give to the town before the first homes are occupied.Town Manager Wayne Marquis could not be reached for comment yesterday. In previous interviews, he said $1 million of Avalon's money will be spent on school building projects, $500,000 on renovations to historic Town Hall and the remainder to build the town's stock of low-income housing. In an arrangement reached early this week, another $300,000 would be spent developing sports fields behind the Thorpe School. For many, the development is not as objectionable as Archer contends, nor as beneficial as Baser and Sears say.Town Meeting member Bill Nicholson,69, was on the task force that, in 1981, began laying the foundation for local building rules that later framed development on the hill. For him, the end product is a mixed bag. There are more apartments and condominiums than Nicholson anticipated. He's worried about increased traffic, and he had hoped more of the Kirkbride could be saved. But he also recognizes the benefits of Avalon's donation to the town."Overall, I would have to say I'm somewhat pleased it is finally coming to an end, and I hope they can at least restore (one-third) of the Kirkbride space," Nicholson said.

Politically active resident John Toomey said many people he's talked with don't trust Avalon and are upset about the loss of the Kirkbride. They also worry about the effects on traffic and schools. Still, he said, they are resigned to the fact the project will go forward. "At least half the people I talk to seem to feel the town didn't get a good deal out of the thing, but there is nothing that can be done about it," Toomey said. "That's progress, I guess."

DSH 5-26-05 $300K included for recreation

Danvers-An Agreement reached this week between the Danvers Planning Board and developers of the Danvers State Hospital property will provide the town with $300,000 for much-needed playing fields."It's welcomed and very generous," said Elizabeth Klemm, a member of the Recreation Committee. "I think this will help add fields, because right now we're maxed out." Development giant AvalonBay Communities had long promised to offset the negative impacts of hundreds of apartments and condos it plans to build on Hathorne Hill--increased traffic, drains on police and fire services, etc.--with a generous donation to the town. Some of the donations cemented in this week's deal, including $1 million for local schools, $500,000 for historic preservation and $500,000 to help build low-income housing, have long been expected. But the $300,000 to develop recreational fields is a new element, reached in negotiations with the town Recreation Committee within the last week. The unexpected windfall comes at a critical time, Klemm said. Just last month, the Danvers youth lacrosse and soccer leagues donated nearly $8,000 to study the possibility of constructing sorely needed fields behind the Thorpe Elementary School. The donation comes, in part, in return for the Planning Board not pressing Avalon on playing fields that had been hoed for in the "lowlands" section of the 77-acre Danvers State Hospital Property.

Planning Board member James Sears said those hopes haven't been completely abandoned, just pushed off. Avalon wanted to secure final approval for construction of condos and apartments in the uplands first and will return for permission to build commercial space in the lowlands at some undetermined point, he said."As far as the neighborhood park, we could try to get them to agree to that in the future," Sears said.


4-28-05 What if the Kirkbride falls down?

After a quarter century of trying to decide the fate of Danvers State Hospital, the end is in sight, and it will include a "what if" paragraph, positing the inability to preserve anything at all of the signature Kirkbride building.

The town's principal planner, Evan Belansky, mentioned the need for such a clause at the Planning Board meeting Tuesday night.

He had a list of other issues that will need to be examined for exact language by the town's counsel and AvalonBay Communities, the prospective developer. All should be ready for final review and approval at the Planning Board's May 24 meeting.

The list includes water conservation, affordable housing, and allowances for the town's reservoir, which will stay where it is, near the old Kirkbride at the new development called Avalon at Hathorne Hill.

That is, if the old Kirkbride still exists.

"I think it would be really tragic if it couldn't be saved," said Planning Board member Ron Baser about the Kirkbride. He had been a member of the Citizens Advisory Committee that spent hundreds of hours trying to ensure some historic preservation there. And, if the building can't be stabilized, he said, "I would want it to be replicated."

AvalonBay has said it will preserve one-third, or 100,000 square feet, of the Kirkbride, something the Citizens Advisory Committee agreed to after much discussion and little support for any more preservation from the state, which owns the property.

According to Avalon Bay Vice President Scott Dale, there has not been enough damage over the two years since its application was accepted to warrant much discussion about the "what if" scenario.

The Kirkbride has sat on top of Hathorne Hill since the late 19th century, a landmark to advancements in the treatment of mental illness. The building itself, with its eight wings fanning out, demanded attention, looming over visitors as they drove up the winding driveway and impressing drivers along the distant highway.

The neo-Gothic structure, with red brick softened by graceful cornices and pediments, was fashioned for quick response to appropriate areas and with lots of light from large windows to encourage more humane treatment of patients. But, that enlightened period was followed by historic neglect of both the building and those hospitalized there.

It creaks, now, and its disrepair fosters tales of terror, so much so that a mainstream movie, "Session Nine," was filmed there a few years ago. Urban explorers list it as a prime location for night-time visits. It has attracted kids through the years, who rummage in the extensive tunnels and ramble through the dark rooms. Some have videotaped their journeys. Just over the last two weeks Danvers police have made a number of arrests of young people from the North Shore and beyond.

The fire department has responded and put out small, easily accessible fires. But, Fire Chief James Tutko has said he will not risk the lives of his men if there are more serious problems at the site.

Besides vandalism, weather continues to leak through holes in the roof of the building, which has been empty since the late 1980s and mothballed, some think unsatisfactorily, by the state.

Despite all this, Avalon's spokesman Dale thinks all will be well. Some employees had been at the site on Friday, April 22, to look at how to secure the central section of the Kirkbride during construction, he said, and did not see significant problems.

"It is our intent to follow through on our commitment," Dale said.

Baser wondered where those who care about this place might be, since none were in attendance at the Planning Board's hearing Tuesday night.

There had been15 or so members of the First Baptist Church in attendance to support an application to expand the parking lot. It had run into trouble because of drainage issues, among others, but won Planning Board approval this night.

After they left, there were no residents in attendance.

The building inspector has agreed with Avalon's interpretation of density allowed, despite hearing opposition from former Citizens Advisory Committee members Bob Pariseau and Bill Nicholson at the last meeting April 12. This interpretation will allow about 124,000 square feet of development in the lowlands, not yet on the drawing boards, and about 113,000 more than Pariseau had thought would be possible at the combined highlands and lowlands.

Pariseau met with Building Inspector Peter Bryson and a couple of Planning Department staff Wednesday morning to discuss the issue, he said.

"I don't know that I convinced them that I was correct," Pariseau said after the meeting.

Bill Nicholson decided to give up.

"There's really not much more I can do," he said Wednesday

4-25-05 Arrest Log Two Boston area men were arrested Saturday at 8 p.m. for trespassing on Danvers State Hospital property, which is closed to the public. Jonathan X 22, of Chelsea, and Jorge X, 24, of East Boston, were arrested and charged with trespassing and illegal possession of burglarious instruments. One man was also charged with providing a false name to a police officer.

4-15-05 Danvers State density dispute

There could be as many as 113,000 more square feet developed at Danvers State Hospital than members of the citizens advisory group who crafted the new zoning ordinance intended, according to information presented at the Planning Board Tuesday night.

"It would be an abomination to the Town Meeting members who voted on that warrant article," if that much more density is allowed, Town Meeting member Bill Nicholson said.

Nicholson is one of the members of the old Citizens Advisory Committee, as well as a Town Meeting member in Precinct 8, the district in which the state hospital sits.

He came in support of the former chairman of the Citizens Advisory Committee, Bob Pariseau, who told Planning Board members, "There was not to be created on that hill any greater density than there is now."

The difference seems to be a matter of definitions.

According to Scott Dale, a vice president for developer Avalon Bay Communities, the density allowed per the zoning ordinance is 2.5 percent of the total land area, which is 75.5 acres, he said. That would allow the company to develop 822,981 square feet.

According to Pariseau, there are just 710,000 square feet available.

The land area was always in dispute, he said, because the state had given away various parcels - some for mental health facilities, some to Middleton, some for other purposes. The state did not give the Citizens Advisory Committee a definitive plot plan. Therefore, the group decided to measure density based on the building area in place on the hospital grounds at that time.

The group presented that density in the request for proposals. They measured about 574,500 square feet of building space on the highlands and approximately 101,000 square feet in the lowlands. They rounded up, to a total of 677,000 square feet.

The committee then decided to provide an incentive of .5 percent, or 33,000 square feet, to a developer for providing low-income housing and for preserving a significant portion of the Kirkbride.

That would bring the total to 710,000 square feet, which is 113,000 square feet less than the developer's figures.

iven that the developer has presented plans for the highlands portion alone of 699,000 square feet, the difference is even more problematic. It would leave the company only 11,000 square feet in the lowlands, versus its own calculation of 124,000 square feet.

The discussions in town have always mentioned 100,000 square feet in the lowlands for commercial space.

The developer Tuesday night presented modifications to building plans on the hill that increased the number of apartments by eight, to 493 total.

Separately, Dale said, that number is still 30 below the 526 approved for development by the Citizens Advisory Committee.

He argued that the quality of the plan and the number of units should be the overriding concerns. He also believed that his interpretation of density, based on land area, should win approval.

Senior Planner Evan Belansky agreed with Dale's interpretation of the density formula. "(It) applies to total land area," he said. "Town Meeting could have decided what the bonus was; it could have deviated (from the usual formula)."

Pariseau agreed that the committee's calculation was not usual. But, there were 11 companies that responded to the request for proposals, based on those specific density figures. Some of those companies might be upset if they found out now that they could have presented proposals allowing for an additional 100,00 square feet of development, Pariseau said.

"I am quite surprised," Planning Board Chairman Ron Baseur said about the discrepancy. He had also been a member of the Citizens Advisory Committee and had been asking for the density figures from the developer through the planning process.

However, the zoning ordinance, as voted, may actually allow the broader interpretation.

"We're going to have to be guided by the building inspector," Baseur said.

The board had additional questions about the proposed memorial for the Danvers State Cemetery on site as well as placement of a possible cell tower and details resulting from some planned building changes presented to them that night. The board will meet again on the issue April 26.

In the meantime, Pariseau and Nicholson intend to take their complaints to the building inspector, looking for a narrow reading of the zoning bylaw.

If they win the point?

"It would be a significant issue that we would have to deal with," Dale sale.

4-12-05 Cops nab 9 for hospital trespass

Police arrested nine people this weekend after they were found on the grounds of the shuttered Danvers State Hospital, a popular site for "urban explorers" hunting for a good scare or trespassing tourists hoping to admire the 19th-century Gothic architecture. And the arrests have prompted police to warn potential visitors of dangers of the crumbling old hospital at the junction of routes 1 and 62, which could cave in at any time. "It's just a matter of time before somebody gets hurt," Danvers police Sgt. Paul Stone said. Around 11pm Sunday Danvers Patrolman Scott Frost was sent to the state-owned former psychiatric hospital to investigate a call for "suspicious persons." Sunday night Frost arrested 4 people ages 18 to 22 and charged them all each with trespassing.

Saturday night Patrolman Robert Sullivan arrested 5 people ages 18 to 20 and charged them with a variety of charges ranging from trespassing to breaking and entering in the nighttime with the intent to commit a felony. Stone said some of five arrested were found scaling the roof of the Kirkbride building when police arrived. They were carrying video equipment and lights to capture their adventure on film, police said. The Danvers Fire Department sent a ladder truck to aid police in looking in the windows and on the roof for trespassers.

Danvers State Hospital which has been without electricity since it closed in 1992, has fallen into a dangerous site of disrepair, town officials say.Ceilings have collapsed, floors have given way to gaping holes and at least two fires have erupted there since last fall. Police and firefighters have been advised not to enter the building.

Two security guards monitor the site 24 hours a day in an attempt to keep out intruders. However, dozens of visitors sneak onto the sprawling 130 year old, 77-acre campus each year despite countless "No Trespassing" signs dotting the property. Stone said some go to great lengths to avoid capture by parking their cars miles away and trudging through the woods. But neither police nor town officials can say what lures people to explore the grounds. "It's an obsession," Stone said, adding that warm weather brings more trespassers. Most of the visitors are so called "urban explorers" groups who illegally tour mysterious, abandoned and deteriorating buildings across the country and post pictures of them on the Internet.The main draw of the former asylum is the once-majestic, now boarded up Kirkbride building also known as "the castle on the hill." The Kirkbride- an imposing, half mile-long tower of brick and spires- was the hospital's flagship structure during its operation.

Keeping trespassers away from Danvers State Hospital is nothing new to the state and local police. Back in February, state police summonsed eight people, ages 15 to 22, and charged them all with trespassing after they were found there. And last November, three Malden teens were arrested by Danvers police after they were caught at the hospital. Those three said they had recently watched "Session 9" a horror movie filmed in part at the site, which piqued their curiosity.Whatever the draw, Stone said Danvers and state police will continue to patrol the property and prosecute trespassers. "If they're on that property they're going to be arrested and they're going to court and they're going to have some kind of record" he said.

Developer Avalon Bay wants to buy the old hospital from the state and transform it into a multimillion dollar housing complex. The company is still trying to acquire the proper permits before it shells out roughly $18 million for the property which is plans to purchase this year.

4-11-05 Arrest Log Five people, ages 18 to 21 were arrested at Danvers State Hospital property Saturday night. Charges range from trespassing to breaking and entering in the nighttime with the intent to commit a felony.

3-25-05 Developer presents traffic plan

Avalon Bay Communities presented conceptual plans for road improvements in front of Danvers State Hospital, a necessary step on their way to redevelopment of the property, winning praise from the Planning Board Tuesday night in a resumption of the long-delayed local permitting process.

Avalon Bay also said the state Highway Department will take another six to eight months to approve final engineering designs, which will delay the transfer of title from the state to the private company and the resulting tax dollars for the town.

The town had expected the developer to take ownership of the property last autumn, which would have meant real estate taxes and other fees of close to $1 million this fiscal year.

With permits still an issue, Avalon Bay may purchase the property this fall, Vice President Scott Dale said Wednesday morning.

"We're hopeful," he said. The road improvements caused a six-month delay, but the building remains stable, he continued, despite two small fires and another winter of snow and rain seeping in.

The traffic re-configuration calls for reducing the island area between the east and west lanes of Route 62 near the State Police barracks, where there would also be a new traffic light to ease traffic patterns, Dale said.

There would be another light at Route 95, at the northbound off-ramp onto Route 62, which would tie in to the existing lights at Stop & Shop, the developers said.

"The existing geometry there is less than ideal," Dale elaborated Wednesday morning. "We've heard a lot of comments from residents about the difficulties," he continued. The developer expects the redesign will be welcome.

"I'm thrilled with the plan," Planning Board member Kristine Cheetham said during the meeting.

Member Margaret Zelinsky talked about how difficult it can be now to make a left turn in that area, expressing the belief that this plan will ease that problem.

Others noted there will be more room to park at the local post office branch, and the fire station should see improved access.

Planner Evan Belansky, in an interview Wednesday, said the lights and reconfiguration as planned will improve safety.

He further explained that the additional light on Route 62 will, of course, cause some backups. However, with computer sensors in Hathorne Road (the name of the long access road to the hospital) and across the way at the State Police barracks entry, such delays will be minimized. The default timing of the lights is overridden when four or five cars are stacked up, he said.

With approvals in hand from the local Police and Fire departments as well as the Danvers Traffic Advisory Committee, the developers will begin final designs on the roads and continue the local permitting process for building designs, Dale said.

The developer had not appeared before the Planning Board since September, a "significant hiatus," as Dale described it.

Among the details to be presented in future meetings will be a redesign of the four-story building around the central Kirkbride tower building. The exterior will still mirror the neo-Gothic monolith, which is on the National Registry of Historic Places, as is the entire site. However, the interior apartments will be reconfigured, Dale said.

The developers may choose to build a cell tower to house the many local and regional police and safety communications apparatus, as well as the cell company equipment currently on the existing water tower. The new cell tower would probably be situated on the left of the property as one climbs the hill, where it would be obscured by existing trees, Dale said. If the separate tower is not possible, the developer may have to scale down communication services, since there is too much for the Kirkbride building, which had been previously mentioned.

The company will also bring plans for the Danvers State Hospital Memorial to the next meeting, April 12. They continue to plan for a small structure and kiosk, Dale said, which will "pay homage to the particular site." The Danvers State Memorial Committee continues to advocate for a more substantial, enclosed building.

Planning Board member Joe Younger expressed concern about the whole area, given this development and also the nearby Route 1 Swing-away development of 258 units, recognizing that such concern was beyond the subject of the meeting.

Separately, Dale said that two fires at the hospital over the winter were, luckily, near the door and fairly easy for the Fire Department to extinguish. In addition, he said, "the building is very, very wet," which kept the fires in check.

Additional snow and rain that entered through holes in the roof continued to rot the interior wood, but since it is all being ripped out, didn't matter too much, Dale said.

"The brick facade appears to be very stable. We're hopeful that when we get in there next fall, it will be in reasonably good shape," Dale said.

3-3-05 Letter to the editor of the Danvers Herald: More to the fires at old hospital?
To the editor:

Firebugs and other trespassers are apparently being allowed nearly unlimited access to the abandoned Danvers State Hospital buildings. This failure to secure the property can only be deliberate: too many people have an incentive to allow an actual conflagration to take place. The principle of Cui bono? (i.e. “Who benefits?) suggests the following:

1. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts, so as to transfer title that much sooner to the developer, receive the proceeds and dismiss its ineffectual pro forma security detail;

2. State and Danvers police, in order to be free of the nuisance of patrolling hospital property where the state security fails to;

3. Danvers firefighters, so as to be able to watch the conflagration in confidence that they need never again fight fires inside those hazardous buildings;

4. The developers, to be rid of the obligation to renovate an existing Kirkbride Building; and finally,

5. Danvers town government, to expedite receipt of the property’s real estate tax and the developer’s lucrative “donations” to the town.

What a wealth of accomplices for the serious arsonist to depend upon.

Anthony O. Leach II, Maple Street

3-3-05 Remembering Danvers State Hospital: A nurse tells her story

Throughout her career as a nurse, Angelina Szot had seen it all. She witnessed shock treatments, as well as the mistreatment and abuse of mentally challenged patients. Now Szot and her daughter Barbara Stillwell have just completed a book that is slated to hit stores within days.

Entitled "Danvers State," Szot narrates her daily experiences as a licensed practiced nurse during her 24 years working on site. A one-time mental health facility located right off of Route 1, Danvers State Hospital housed a variety of patients, from those suffering with dementia, to others who suffered from depression, as well as alcohol and drug abuse. Opened in 1874, the institution played a key role in the state for 117 years.

"It was unbelievable back in those days,'' said Szot, who worked there from 1948 to 1972. "The conditions were terrible and the patients weren't treated right. No one had any idea on how to treat them, and often they were treated very awful. I used to come home every day and tell my family how thankful I am. Once you were sent there, there was probably no chance you were able to come out of there alive. Some of the patients spent the rest of their lives there."

Szot, now 78 years young, recalls some of her experiences as a nurse during her time as a nurse. Since her first day in 1948, Szot estimated that she witnessed nearly 10,000 patients who were abused during her 24 years as a member of the Danvers State nursing staff.

"I remember times when they used shock treatments for the patients,'' said Szot. "No one really knew how to handle them at the time. Often times, they were either left alone or if they acted out on the staff, the doctors would come in and (throw them down) onto the beds. There were even times when they used frozen bed sheets to hit the patients in an effort to calm them down."

Stillwell would recall the days and nights when Szot would arrive home with stories about the job.

"I just remember my mom coming home and telling us all these stories about the patients and what they (staff) were doing to them,'' said Stillwell. "We all used to shudder at the thought of how they were treated. But back then, I don't think they really knew how (doctors) handled such cases. Now things are so much different, and there's counseling as well as medication to handle such problems."

After leaving Danvers State in 1972, Szot elected to take a position closer to her home in Hempstead, New Hampshire. It wasn't until nearly a decade after her retirement in 1983 when the ideas of writing a book entered Szot's mind.

"My mom really wanted to write a book about her experiences as a nurse over there at (Danvers State) and I wanted to help her out,'' said Stillwell. "So she told her experiences and I recorded them on tape. After that we transcribed that onto chapters and that's how things got going with the book."

For nearly three years, Stillwell would document all the stories told by Szot. And when the original copy of the book was finished, Stillwell submitted the manuscripts to over 50 book publishers throughout the country.

"It was a long and drawn out process,'' said Stillwell. "We had to go out and get an agent to help us out. We sent out so many letters and we got some interest, but in the end we had so many people reject our ideas. It was a lot of hard work, and we weren't even sure if we were going to get any publisher to take on the project."

After months of trying to locate a publisher, Author House, a book publishing company out of Illinois, finally decided to take on the project.

"They've been great to work with,'' said Stillwell. "They seemed really interested in what we had, and they wanted to work with us. It's been a joy to work with them, and they're really helping out with the marketing and promotions of the book."

Even with the book completed, Stillwell acknowledges that it's only the beginning of the process. While people may purchase the book on both Amazon and the Barnes and Nobles' Web sites, Stillwell knows that book signings and promotional tours will be essential in the coming months.

"My mom's just enjoying the ride right now,'' said Stillwell. "She loves getting all the attention she's been receiving on the book. We have a couple of book signings coming up, and we're working on some appearances on local radio shows. We're working with Barnes and Noble about possible dates and times for book signings and we'll just see what happens. But so far, things have been going great."

2-24-05 Security a concern after fire

After responding to the second fire in five months at Danvers State Hospital, public safety officials are again raising concerns and offering a chilling premonition about the abandoned property.

"I've been saying it for 10 years, it's only a matter of time for that place," Fire Chief James Tutko said yesterday. "It's just a horrendous area. And the time is coming that we're not going to send our guys in because it'll be too dangerous."

The small campfire, discovered early Sunday morning, was confined to the first-floor auditorium of the Kirkbride Building and was extinguished in 15 minutes.

It is the second time since September firefighters have entered the dilapidated structures off Route 62: The first fire was on the third floor and started with a pile of old patient records, fire officials said.

Both fires were arson, Tutko said, and both raise major concerns.

"You only need to think about the Worcester fire (in 1999) to see what can happen with abandoned buildings," Tutko said. "And we're not going to have a Worcester-type fire here. If it's a big fire, then my men will not go in. Period."

Closed in 1992, the state hospital buildings have fallen into dangerous disrepair. Ceilings have collapsed, and floors have gaping holes — calling into question the buildings' structural integrity.

Two guards are posted on the state-owned site 24 hours a day in an attempt to keep intruders out. But with a sprawling 130-year-old facility that totals more than 300,000 square feet across 77 acres, the job is just too large for two people, local officials said.

"I'm not sure if you increased the (number of) guards patrolling that you'd be able to stop people from getting in there," Tutko said. "It's a huge site and if people want to get in and cause trouble, they're going to get in and cause trouble."

One of those guards sat at the entrance of Hathorne Avenue yesterday and declined to provide any information about the fire. He was preventing vehicle access to the site, he said.

Police Chief Neil Ouellette has forbidden any police officer from setting foot into the abandoned buildings, citing safety concerns for the officers.

"They have been instructed to not go into those buildings under any circumstances. They are not trained to respond to that kind of situation," Ouellette said.

But Danvers State continues to be a favorite site among "urban explorers." Various groups, who explore abandoned and dilapidated buildings, enjoy taking pictures and posting them on the Internet. Homeless people and drug users have also been known to use the abandoned hospital as a shelter, police said.

"It's a hard place to patrol, but we do make our presence known," said Ouellette, who noted officers drive around the paved section of the hospital several times a day. "But until those buildings are knocked down, it's going to continue to be a problem no matter how many people patrol that area."

Present and future owners respond

Martha McMahon, spokeswoman for the state's Division of Capital Management — who owns the site — said changes will be made.

"In light of recent events, we are in the process of evaluating security there," McMahon said.

That was the same thing state spokesman Kevin Flanigan said five months ago. McMahon said yesterday that she did not know if security has increased since September.

Avalon Bay, a company planning to transform Danvers State into a 485-home development, is also concerned about the incidents. Avalon Bay will purchase the site for about $18 million within the next year after acquiring the proper permitting from the state and local boards.

Although he was unavailable for comment this week, Scott Dale, vice president of Avalon Bay, has said in no uncertain terms that the hospital is a hazard.

"Every day that goes by, the risk that something may happen increases," said Dale at a Planning Board meeting in November. "As soon as we take control of the building, we will have security on the premises 24-7. It is a huge liability, both the way it currently stands and through the demolition and construction phases."

Tutko said an anonymous caller who alerted firefighters of the blaze was most likely inside the building at the time of the call.

"It was someone who knew what was happening, most likely someone inside that knew what could happen," Tutko said. "Thankfully, we were able to stop it before something major happened. But make no mistake about it, something major is going to happen. That's just a matter of time."

2-22-05 Danvers FD puts out small "campfire" at former hospital

Firefighters went inside shuttered Danvers State Hospital again this weekend to extinguish what appeared to be a "campfire" left unattended in an auditorium on the dangerously dilapidated property.

The blaze, discovered at midnight Sunday, was put out in 15 minutes and no one was injured. But Danvers Fire Capt. Douglas Conrad said he fears it's just a matter of time before firefighters encounter a major fire on the former psychiatric hospital property, a haven for fright-seekers and those hoping to admire its 19th-century gothic architecture.

"It's a big sprawling area," he said. "There's no way they can stop people from getting in there."

The fire was located about 50 feet away from an entrance.

Empty beer bottles, trash and graffiti surrounded the blaze at the state-owned property.

"It looked just like someone was having a campfire," he said.

A similar fire was discovered on the hospital property late last September. Conrad said he "definitely" thinks both blazes were "suspicious in nature," intentionally set by people trespassing on the hospital property.

"If nobody was in there, there would be no fire," he said, noting electricity to the building was cut long ago.

Two security guards were on the hospital property, which sits on the junction of Routes 1 and 62, but they are not allowed to enter any of the hospital buildings, Conrad said.

"It was really the same as the last fire...People were inside there doing their thing, walking around," Conrad said.

Officials long ago warned conditions inside the hospital property, closed in the early 1990s, are treacherous. Ceilings have collapsed and floors have gaping holes, said Conrad.

Unrelated to the fire, eight people were summonsed Sunday for criminal trespassing at the property at 3:40 pm yesterday.

The flagship structure on the property, the Kirkbride building, measures a half-mile long.

As firefighters walked inside the hospital this weekend, they quickly discovered every surface was coated with ice.

"It was like a skating rink inside. Snow gets into the building and then it freezes over," Conrad said.

The area where the fire was set was on hardwood floor, buckled in many areas by water, snow and ice.

The fire remains under investigation by Danvers Fire Lt. David Deluca.

Developer Avalon Bay wants to buy the old hospital from the state and convert it to a multimillion-dollar housing complex, Avalon at Hathorne Hill.
The company is trying to acquire the proper permits before paying $18.1 million for the property.

2-20-05 Arrest Log Eight people, ages 15 to 22, were issued summonses for criminal trespassing after they were allegedly caught trespassing on Danvers State Hospital property at 3:40 Sunday afternoon. Formerly a psychiatric hospital, Danvers State has been closed for more than a decade, and visitors are barred from the property. Trooper Sean Reardon Investigated.


2-1-05 City holding bag after hospital-land permit delay

Twenty-four years in the making, the redevelopment of Danvers State Hospital will have to wait at least another eight months, as a developer has pushed back its purchase of the 75-acre property, depriving the city of $100,000 in tax revenue.

Under the original sales agreement, real estate development giant AvalonBay Communities was suppose to buy the property from the state for $18.1 million by the end of January. However, it's taking Avalon longer than expected to obtain needed state and local building permits, and the company doesn't want to spend its money until the permits are in place.

Now, the state has agreed in principle to delay the sale until September to give Avalon the time it needs, said state Department of Capital Asset Management spokesman Kevin Flanigan.

"They are an excellent developer and remain committed to the project, so we felt it was definitely the right thing to do," Flanigan said.

Avalon director of development Scott Dale said the company expects to close on the property in September and then begin demolishing old hospital buildings and preparing roads the next day. Three months later, the site should be ready for construction of buildings that will hold 485 condominiums, he said.

Nevertheless, the delayed sale will cost the town an estimated $100,000 in property taxes and also force other special-interest groups to wait for money promised with the sale since the state will own the land longer, thus remaining tax-exempt.

Avalon had offered concessions to several groups and stakes in the property, including: $1 million for Danvers schools; $4.5 million to be used by the state for housing the mentally ill; $500,000 for local affordable housing assistance trust; and $500,000 for local historic preservation group.

that tax money was supposed to help the town pay for the coming years' debt payments on its new middle school in the newly reconstructed Holten-Richmond building. Now, the money will have to be found elsewhere in the budget or pulled from reserve accounts.

"To the extent the money doesn't materialize, it will take away some of our flexibility in meeting next year's Holten-Richmond costs," Marquis said.

For Danvers officials, the loss of the tax money is the most troubling, because unlike the delayed concessions, it's money the town loses forever, explained Planning and Human Services Assistant Director Susan Fletcher.

"The other money will come, it will just come later," Fletcher said.

Town and state officials first began discussing the future of the hospital property in 1981, 10 years before the last of its patients were bused away to new homes. That was followed by a series of committees studying and plotting sale of the property. After much discussion and political wrangling, AvalonBay Communities was chosen by a local oversight group and the state to develop the property.

Avalon's plans have been held up as the Massachusetts Highway Department studies traffic-calming measures for the development's main entrance along Route 62. After months of waiting, the company and state are close to an agreement that would narrow the median strip of Route 62 by the project entrance, and place a new traffic light there, Dale said.

Despite the delays, Dale said, "There has been no decrease in our level of excitement for the perceived opportunity here."

1-21-05 Town's revenue stalled in traffic

All that currently stands between developer AvalonBay Communities and the sale and renovation of Danvers State Hospital are a handful of state-issued traffic permits and an estimated $21 million dollars - but Town Manager Wayne Marquis is getting a bit anxious, since the tax revenue will help pay off the Holten-Richmond reconstruction project.

Tax revenue from the Danvers State Hospital project, even without redevelopment, is expected to be $725,000 for fiscal 2006 if the sale to a private corporation goes through.

Meanwhile, the town has been figuring on that tax income, and an estimated $1 million a year once the 486 apartments are built in Phase I, to help finance the reconstruction of the Holten-Richmond School as a modern middle school.

The town expects to pay $500,000 to $600,000 in interest on the Holten-Richmond School, scheduled to re-open in September, during fiscal 2006, which begins July 1, 2005, Marquis said Tuesday morning.

"We've been talking about selling that property for 20 years," Marquis said. "Show me the documents. Show me the money."

Of course, even without a firm sale date, the budget will be balanced and presented to Town Meeting in May, Marquis said. However, "it will not be an easy year by any stretch," he said. (See related story.)

Kevin Flanigan, a representative of the Massachusetts Department of Capital Asset Management, the state agency engineering the sale, said Tuesday that AvalonBay must receive all its permits before the state will sign over the 75 acres made available for private development. The sale was supposed to happen in the autumn of 2004, then this month, and still has not happened.

MassHighway needs to issue permits for the state hospital project, since it impacts surrounding roads and includes a reconfigured main entrance on Route 62.

In 2003, Avalon Bay proposed a development plan for the hospital and its grounds, with apartments and condo units on top of Hathorne Hill and another 100,000 square feet of professional space on the lowlands, to be developed later. The developers also promised to preserve one-third of the Kirkbride, the hospital's central building.

Avalon Bay Vice President Scott Dale said this week he expects construction - and the sale -sometime this calendar year. He expects the state to issue the last of the permits within the next 30 to 60 days. He will then present these plans to the Danvers Traffic Advisory Committee and the Planning Board.

Currently, Avalon Bay is not scheduled on either agenda.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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