‘So much potential’

Old hospital offers chance to preserve history and prepare for the future

By Kimberly Cauvel, May 30, 2015, GoSkagit

From inside, it’s easy to picture what the now chilled, empty corridors of the Denny building at the former Northern State Hospital once looked like.

Nurses in fitted white dresses moving through the halls. Patients socializing in the lounge-like areas.

Natural light still shines through the many tall, arched windows. But the walls and floors have become dull and damaged in some places after decades of not being maintained.

Local and state officials agree it would be a shame to let a site with so much history and character continue to degrade.

“It’s salvageable if people have the dollars to invest,” said Ann Sweeney, state Department of Enterprise Services special assistant to the director.

Enterprise Services manages the former hospital campus, which is known today as the North Cascades Gateway Center.

The state agency is supporting the efforts of the Port of Skagit, Skagit County and Sedro-Woolley to determine how best the campus could be used for the benefit of the community and the economy.

Whatever renovation takes place at the campus, officials say its historical character will be carefully maintained. That means existing buildings will be restored where possible, and additions will be modeled after the original Olmsted Brothers design.

In its heyday, Northern State Hospital for the mentally ill employed 415 people, had a $1.15 million payroll and cared for 2,200 patients, according to a recent port presentation.

In five to 15 years, it could again bustle with staff and visitors.

That might mean the Denny building would become a research and education center frequented by students and scientists. Or it could mean it becoming a new lodging option in the Skagit Valley.

But any transformation is years away.

This month, the port, county and city released the final adaptive reuse study, which delves into what the North Cascades Gateway Center once was, what it is now, and what it could become.

Enterprise Services and port employees are also putting together a snapshot of what it looks like today.

“Whatever happens, we will know that this is what it (the campus) looked like in May 2015,” Sweeney said while taking a tour with port Community Outreach Administrator Carl Molesworth last week.

Molesworth has gone into some of the unoccupied buildings with North Cascades Gateway Center Construction Maintenance Superintendent John Wiggins and his staff. Molesworth has collected pictures that may be used in a then-and-now format, possibly online or as printed material, Sweeney said.

Since the hospital closed in the early 1970s, public access to the campus has become restricted to protect the privacy of tenants, such as the chemical dependency treatment facility Pioneer Center North.

Local officials and the community want to see public access restored.

Janicki Bioenergy, a recent offshoot of Janicki Industries, has brought forward a proposal that study partners have said would work well to fulfill public access, job creation and reuse goals.

Those who spoke at the most recent public meeting this month overwhelmingly supported a renovation of the campus, particularly given Peter Janicki’s idea to use it for a research and development center for Janicki Bioenergy’s Omniprocessor, which turns sewage into water and electricity.

Sedro-Woolley Chamber of Commerce Director Pola Kelley and former Economic Development Association of Skagit County Executive Director Don Wick said they were moved by the potential for the county to play a part in changing the world if Janicki brought the groundbreaking technology to the North Cascades Gateway Center.

“One of the things that was said a long time ago by Gandhi was ‘Be the change you want to see in the world.’ I am amazed at (Peter and Susan Janicki’s) concept here. It is incredible to think that our town could be the leader in changing the world,” Kelley said.

Kelley remembers how Sedro-Woolley suffered a loss of jobs after the hospital closed. That was followed by the closure of other area manufacturers and mills.

She believes bringing the historic hospital campus back to life will bring valuable jobs with it.

“We have survived. We have not thrived. What we want to see is something that can help bring back the kind of community we once had,” Kelley said.

She also has a personal attachment to the campus. Growing up in Sedro-Woolley, she remembers being awed by its beauty.

“When I was a young girl, my aunt was a resident up at Northern State, and I went up there with my mom on Sundays to pick her up and take her out to dinner. It was such an interesting place to go to because, one, it was one of the most beautiful places I could imagine … The buildings then were beautiful, and I always loved the stained glass and everything else.”

 

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