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A campus transformed

New Hampshire Hospital facilities still in transition to office space

  • Construction on the old Tobey School was underway by contractors on August 14, 2013 at the State Office Park in Concord. The building is one of the first pieces that will be finished in the campus's transformation. What was once the state-run school for children with severe behavioral and emotional problems is scheduled to open as the new headquarters of the New Hampshire Employment Security next year. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Construction on the old Tobey School was underway by contractors on August 14, 2013 at the State Office Park in Concord. The building is one of the first pieces that will be finished in the campus's transformation. What was once the state-run school for children with severe behavioral and emotional problems is scheduled to open as the new headquarters of the New Hampshire Employment Security next year.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • A view of the Hugh J. Gallen State Office Park is seen through one of the yet-to-be-installed windows at the Tobey School. Construction on the old Tobey School was underway by contractors on August 14, 2013 at the State Office Park in Concord. The building is one of the first pieces that will be finished in the campus's transformation. What was once the state-run school for children with severe behavioral and emotional problems is scheduled to open as the new headquarters of the New Hampshire Employment Security next year. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    A view of the Hugh J. Gallen State Office Park is seen through one of the yet-to-be-installed windows at the Tobey School. Construction on the old Tobey School was underway by contractors on August 14, 2013 at the State Office Park in Concord. The building is one of the first pieces that will be finished in the campus's transformation. What was once the state-run school for children with severe behavioral and emotional problems is scheduled to open as the new headquarters of the New Hampshire Employment Security next year.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Construction on the old Tobey School was underway by contractors on August 14, 2013 at the State Office Park in Concord. The building is one of the first pieces that will be finished in the campus's transformation. What was once the state-run school for children with severe behavioral and emotional problems is scheduled to open as the new headquarters of the New Hampshire Employment Security next year. <br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Construction on the old Tobey School was underway by contractors on August 14, 2013 at the State Office Park in Concord. The building is one of the first pieces that will be finished in the campus's transformation. What was once the state-run school for children with severe behavioral and emotional problems is scheduled to open as the new headquarters of the New Hampshire Employment Security next year.
    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • A welder works on securing a staircase inside the Tobey School. Construction on the old Tobey School was underway by contractors on August 14, 2013 at the State Office Park in Concord. The building is one of the first pieces that will be finished in the campus's transformation. What was once the state-run school for children with severe behavioral and emotional problems is scheduled to open as the new headquarters of the New Hampshire Employment Security next year. <br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    A welder works on securing a staircase inside the Tobey School. Construction on the old Tobey School was underway by contractors on August 14, 2013 at the State Office Park in Concord. The building is one of the first pieces that will be finished in the campus's transformation. What was once the state-run school for children with severe behavioral and emotional problems is scheduled to open as the new headquarters of the New Hampshire Employment Security next year.
    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Construction on the old Tobey School was underway by contractors on August 14, 2013 at the State Office Park in Concord. The building is one of the first pieces that will be finished in the campus's transformation. What was once the state-run school for children with severe behavioral and emotional problems is scheduled to open as the new headquarters of the New Hampshire Employment Security next year. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • A view of the Hugh J. Gallen State Office Park is seen through one of the yet-to-be-installed windows at the Tobey School. Construction on the old Tobey School was underway by contractors on August 14, 2013 at the State Office Park in Concord. The building is one of the first pieces that will be finished in the campus's transformation. What was once the state-run school for children with severe behavioral and emotional problems is scheduled to open as the new headquarters of the New Hampshire Employment Security next year. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Construction on the old Tobey School was underway by contractors on August 14, 2013 at the State Office Park in Concord. The building is one of the first pieces that will be finished in the campus's transformation. What was once the state-run school for children with severe behavioral and emotional problems is scheduled to open as the new headquarters of the New Hampshire Employment Security next year. <br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • A welder works on securing a staircase inside the Tobey School. Construction on the old Tobey School was underway by contractors on August 14, 2013 at the State Office Park in Concord. The building is one of the first pieces that will be finished in the campus's transformation. What was once the state-run school for children with severe behavioral and emotional problems is scheduled to open as the new headquarters of the New Hampshire Employment Security next year. <br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

A combination of Yankee frugality and reverence for the past has helped transform a dozen handsome buildings on the New Hampshire Hospital campus – once home to thousands of psychiatric patients – into offices for a couple of thousand state employees.

Officials say the decades-long redevelopment of what’s now formally called the Governor Hugh. J. Gallen State Office Park has saved the state money, by owning instead of leasing office space, and in the process preserved an impressive collection of historical buildings.

But for Concord, the effect has been a mixed. Consolidating state offices left vacancies in privately owned buildings downtown and around the city, and that meant less foot traffic for nearby restaurants and shops.

Still, the overall vacancy rate for office space in Concord is relatively low. And civic leaders say the departure of state workers has opened opportunities for longer-term redevelopment projects: for example, the upcoming redevelopment of the New Hampshire Employment Security building on South Main Street, a prime piece of downtown real estate now occupied by one of the city’s ugliest buildings.

“It’s kind of a double-edged sword, from my perspective,” said Tim Sink, president of the Greater Concord Chamber of Commerce. “There’s some short-term loss, but there’s the potential for long-term projects that help fill the void.”

Whatever the ripple effects, it’s been a gradual process, spanning the last quarter-century. The state hospital was home to more than 2,700 patients in the mid-1950s but, thanks to a national push to deinstitutionalize people with mental illnesses, has just 142 beds today. That left buildings, most dating to the 19th and early 20th centuries, empty and ready for conversion.

“If you look at it from a purely economic perspective, it’s a long-term payback. Thirty-five, 40 years,” said Mike Connor, deputy commissioner of the Department of Administrative Services. “But . . . from a holistic point of view, we’re reusing valuable assets that the state has invested in.”

Finding new uses for old asylums has been a challenge for communities across the United States, and many remain empty today. In New Hampshire, reusing the buildings as state offices began as a piecemeal effort, but lawmakers in the 1990s came up with a master plan for the 106-acre campus that began to guide the work.

And two more big pieces will be ready soon. The old Tobey School is scheduled to become the new headquarters of New Hampshire Employment Security in January, and the Anna Philbrook Center should be ready in November to house offices for more than a dozen state boards and commissions.

Grow and shrink

On Oct. 29, 1842, the New Hampshire Asylum for the Insane opened off Pleasant Street – the then-town of Concord had offered to contribute $9,500 to the project, “provided it should be located within its limits,” wrote James O. Lyford in his 1903 history of Concord.

It grew from 20 patients that first year to more than 1,200 in 1917, and more than 2,700 in 1955. New wings extended from the original asylum, now called the Main Building, and new buildings rose nearby. It had its own farm, hospital and power plant.

The Johnson and Londergan buildings were dormitories for nurses. The Twitchell and Bancroft buildings were built for “convalescent” patients, typically upper- and middle-class men and women with mild forms of mental illness. The “pauper insane,” on the other hand, went into the Walker Building.

“I think if people took a tour of the campus, it might not be the same, but those buildings still tell the story of mental health in this country,” said Van McLeod, commissioner of the Department of Cultural Resources.

The story took a turn after World War II.

In 1954, the Food and Drug Administration approved the use of Thorazine, heralding increasingly effective psychiatric medications. In 1963, the federal Community Mental Health Act spurred deinstitutionalization, the idea that people with mental illness should be treated in their communities and not at state hospitals.

Between 1955 and 1980, the population of U.S. mental institutions fell from 559,000 to 154,000, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. New Hampshire Hospital was down to about 500 patients by the mid-1980s, a number that fell to 300 in 1994.

Today there are 142 beds available at the hospital, based in the Acute Psychiatric Services building completed in 1989. By then, many of the hospital’s older buildings were vacant and some were falling apart.

A second life

“What Will State Do With Hospital Grounds?” asked a Monitor headline in 1985.

The late developer Duncan McGowan proposed dividing the hospital campus into quadrants: one for housing, one for a corporate headquarters, one for recreation and one for a college campus.

A real estate company saw the Walker Building, at the corner of Pleasant and South Fruit streets, as a possible mix of office space and rental apartments.

The Concord School District eyed Walker, too, in case the nearby high school needed to expand.

But by the 1990s, a different process was under way. The state government, growing and in need of office space, started to move workers into newly empty buildings and wings on the campus.

“It was a little opportunistic, in a sense,” said former state architectural historian Jim Garvin, who worked for a time in the decaying Walker Building. “There were vacant spaces opening up, and state agencies were shoehorned into some of these places.”

Londergan became home to the Department of Education. The Department of Labor moved into Spaulding. The Department of Health and Human Services started to move into the Main Building, the Annex and Dolloff. Johnson was home to several offices including the Board of Tax and Land Appeals.

It wasn’t a coordinated effort. White-collar workers and patients frequently crossed paths, a relationship described in a 1994 report as “somewhat uncomfortable.” Some of the largest buildings remained vacant and blighted.

Then the state tried to knock down the Walker Building.

In 1991, the Legislature appropriated $1.8 million to demolish Walker and build a parking lot. But preservation-minded opponents on the Executive Council defied then-Gov. Judd Gregg and refused to approve a $40,000 contract to remove asbestos ahead of demolition.

The next year, the Legislature passing a bill protecting Walker and other buildings from demolition, and ordering a study to see “whether it would be economical and a more efficient use of space to restore and rehabilitate” them.

Walker’s boosters argued the building was an architectural treasure, and tearing it down would be a waste of money. They included the late Leon Calawa of Litchfield, a longtime member of the House’s public works committee.

He led the 1992 study committee, which determined that saving the old buildings was both practical and economical. That led to a second study, also led by Calawa, that in late 1994 produced a master plan for the hospital campus.

“He was the one who gave the impetus,” said Connor, who helped produce that master plan. “He carried the torch.”

The 1994 plan set the tone for two decades to come: The buildings on the hospital campus represent “a valuable public asset” that can and should be rehabilitated and reused. In 2004, a more focused redevelopment plan built on the 1994 master plan.

The Brown Building, built for “disturbed” female patients, was renovated in the late 1990s for Department of Health and Human Services offices. In the early 2000s, the Walker Building was renovated and now houses the New Hampshire Insurance Department and the Public Utilities Commission. The Medical & Surgical Building was renovated in 2008 for the Department of Revenue Administration, which had been spread across several buildings on the Heights.

The state hospital is still there, using a handful of buildings sprinkled across the campus for transitional housing and patient services, but there are “no significant problems” sharing the space, said Bob MacLeod, the hospital’s chief executive officer.

And the presence of close to 2,000 state workers, by Connor’s estimate, has protected the state hospital’s historical buildings from the wrecking ball.

“To remove them would be to not only remove buildings that could be rehabilitated . . . but would also erase a noble, if flawed, chapter in New Hampshire history,” Garvin said.

Ripple effects

For the city of Concord, it’s been a more mixed experience.

City officials have long been involved in discussions about the campus. But the plan never needed approval from the city council or the planning board, and the 1994 master plan allotted just two of its nearly 400 pages to a list of “City Concerns.”

Those included traffic congestion, demand for parking and, crucially, the possible effects for local landlords.

In 2004, the state was leasing about 326,000 square feet of privately owned office space in Concord. The number had been cut by more than half by this summer, to 138,000 square feet.

For the state, owning seems a better deal than leasing – over 20 years, renting 40,000 square feet costs as much as owning 120,000 square feet, according to the 1994 plan.

(It’s difficult, though, to calculate the state’s total investment in the campus over the past 20 or 25 years, given the number and variety of projects there. The state’s 2004 report estimated that completing the project – including building renovations, landscape improvements and utility upgrades – would cost an additional $84.8 million.)

But on the other side of the ledger, building owners lost tenants as state agencies moved to Pleasant Street and the Governor Meldrim Thomson State Office Complex on Hazen Drive.

That newly vacant space sometimes stayed empty. Much of it was “low-grade office space,” Assistant City Planner Steve Henninger said, including the upper floors of aging downtown buildings. The 2007-2009 recession and weak economic recovery also hurt efforts to attract new tenants.

In one case, downtown office space occupied by the Department of Education and later by the Department of Environmental Services has been vacant since the state moved out about eight years ago, said Bill Norton, a commercial real estate broker who used to manage the building.

Landlords weren’t the only ones hurt when workers left downtown.

“Assume all of them get one coffee a day and half of them get lunch every day,” Norton said. “That’s 100, 125 lunches you’re not buying downtown.”

The overall effect is hard to measure. But city officials don’t seem too concerned.

“I’ve seen some buildings that have taken a while to re-rent or to convert over, but nothing horrendous,” Henninger said. “My observation: It’s no worse than the average churning in the marketplace.”

The market for office space in Concord is relatively strong, boasting a vacancy rate of 13.1 percent in 2012 compared with 14.8 percent in Manchester and 17.4 percent in Nashua, according to CBRE Group.

“I think, by and large, most of the landlords operate as the market expects them to operate. You lose a tenant, you go and find a tenant,” said Matt Walsh, Concord’s director of redevelopment, downtown services and special projects. “It’s not like the state’s done this all at once and moved 500,000 square feet all at once. There’s been time for the market to absorb this.”

And as state workers left, space opened up for new tenants or more ambitious projects, like the as-yet-unspecified plan to redevelop the New Hampshire Employment Security property on South Main Street.

“It does create opportunities for the city,” Walsh said, describing the process as “normally short-term pain for hopefully long-term gain.”

(Ben Leubsdorf can be reached at 369-3307 or bleubsdorf@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @BenLeubsdorf.)

Yes, that's the factory I'm talking about. It should be returned for its original purpose. There's a lot of nuts walking around these days that could use a good home.

There seems to be a mistake in the "present day use" section for either Walker or Brown, since they are identical. Otherwise, interesting article.

there could be nothing more appropriate than putting Big Govt single tasking union workers in a psychiatric hospital

sail, that's excellent!

"The state hospital was home to more than 2,700 patients in the mid-1950s but, thanks to a national push to deinstitutionalize people with mental illnesses, has just 142 beds today. " And today, people wait days in the emergency room for a bed in a treatment center. Progress.

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