Old St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center buildings to be razed under proposed project

Published: Aug. 2, 2023 at 2:42 PM EDT
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OGDENSBURG, New York (WWNY) - 7 News has learned the state has plans to tear down ten vacant buildings formerly used by the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center in Ogdensburg.

Andrea Smith, Ogdensburg’s interim city manager, says this is great news.

“The notion that this may be moving forward pretty quickly is pretty significant ground to have covered from seemingly a path that has taken quite a long time,” she said.

The proposed project would be completed in two phases and would include hazardous and regulated material removal.

The buildings to be demolished in the psych center’s Letchworth Building Complex total approximately 135,000 square feet.

“I’m very happy because at the point they’re at, demolition, re-purposing the land, it’s exactly what our city needs to start to grow again and hopefully get back to the prosperity of days long ago,” said Mayor Mike Skelly.

The first phase would raze buildings on the southern half of the complex.

The second phase would demolish the northern half and remove fences around the perimeter.

The complex was built in the 1890s and closed in 1988.

The Dormitory Authority of the State of New York (DASNY) received a request from the New York State Office of Mental Health to tear down the ten buildings.

Ogdensburg officials have complained for decades about the deteriorating property. Former state Senator Patty Ritchie and current Assemblyman Scott Gray both advocated for the demolition and cleanup of the buildings.

“These buildings have deteriorated into not only an eyesore but a public safety hazard as well,” Gray said in a prepared statement. “The demolition is a turning point for Ogdensburg, which is burdened by unassessed property that, in turn, is shifted onto the taxpayers of Ogdensburg.”

State paperwork says phase one could start in December and the second phase would be completed by next June.

The state says additional dilapidated and deteriorated buildings on the psych campus are under consideration for demolition.

“Having them removed at least does start to pave the way for what’s to come next and a conversation about how to get the resulting property back into some type of productive reuse even if that’s just through a payment in lieu of taxes negotiated with the state,” said Smith.

She said she is hopeful that some of the ornate furnishings in the buildings will be saved.

Other parts of the old campus are not included in the demolition project, including the center’s old administration building.

“It’s a beautiful piece of property. There’s a lot of acreage there, and right now it’s off the tax rolls. I would like to see the state, if they’re going to do an investment here, is clean up any brownfields or any buildings that are beyond repair, and let’s figure out a way to get this back on the tax rolls,” said Dan Skamperle, city councillor.

”It’s basically a clean-up process, and it would be better if they had an overall plan and strategy for that land, and getting it back on the tax rolls, but this is a step in the right direction and I applaud the effort,” said city councillor John Rishe.

City councillors will talk more about this announcement at their August 14 meeting.

We reached out to the governor’s office for comment but didn’t hear back.