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Oregon Awards Contract on Fate of State Hospital

by Michelle Roberts

Summary: An architectural firm will study whether the institution should be razed and replaced

A San Francisco-based architectural firm with experience designing psychiatric hospitals has been awarded a state contract to study whether the Oregon State Hospital in Salem should be razed and replaced, Department of Human Services officials announced Friday.

The $120,000 contract with KMD Architects was signed Thursday. Gov. Ted Kulongoski has proposed an additional $350,000 in his recommended 2005-07 budget to continue state hospital planning.

"We are fortunate to have engaged a nationally recognized firm that is not only experienced in this work but also committed to including stakeholders in planning the most effective type of treatment facility," Bob Nikkel, administrator of the DHS Office of Mental Health and Addiction Services, said Friday.

Last month, a Senate panel opened hearings into problems at the Oregon State Hospital, including discussion of whether the 121-year-old psychiatric facility should be torn down and replaced with a new hospital.

Nikkel said state legislators are expecting to review the firm's plans by May 15 so they will have time to debate financing the second phase of the plan before the Legislature adjourns.

The contract calls for KMD to provide a general framework for the governor and legislators to consider the hospital's future role, including its place in the larger state mental health system.

The firm also is charged with completing an inventory of state lands to find the optimal siting for psychiatric facilities. The company will look at whether separate treatment centers should be provided for forensics patients and whether those facilities should be shared with the Oregon Department of Corrections.

The study also will examine what to do with the hospital's 144-acre campus -- specifically how to demolish buildings that contain asbestos and lead paint.

Concerns about conditions at the hospital -- one of the oldest, most dilapidated state mental institutions in the United States -- have grown in recent months amid reports of patient abuse, short staffing and crumbling facilities.

The state hospital in Salem has about 750 patients. Its newest building was constructed in 1955.

Up to 25 percent of the hospital's 1.2 million square feet -- and more than half of its largest building -- are unusable because of age and deterioration. The hospital census regularly soars past its budgeted capacity.

In October, Oregon Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, wrote a letter to fellow senators saying that conditions at the hospital are so appalling the institution is vulnerable to a federal lawsuit and possible takeover by the courts.

Nikkel said KMD Architects would work with a steering committee -- consumer, union, advocacy and other representatives -- whose first meeting is expected to be held in early March in Salem.

In its response to the state's request for proposals, KMD said its 2001 work at Western State Hospital in Steilacoom, Wash., is similar to what was requested for Oregon's state hospital.

KMD's experience designing mental-health facilities dates to 1964 and includes facilities in 15 states.

© 2005 Oregonian Publishing Co. All rights reserved. Used with permission of The Oregonian.

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