Five million dollars to demolish three old Central State buildings?
Baldwin2K News on Friday reached out to Walter Reynolds, a man with a singularly unique perspective when it comes to the old buildings surrounding the pecan grove at Central State Hospital.
Reynolds was the interim executive director of the Central State Hospital Local Redevelopment Authority between July 2021 and October 2022. Reynolds had many conversations with people at the state level about the future of the Jones, Walker and Green buildings. Earlier this week, that future apparently became clear, as Gov. Brian Kemp signed an executive order, clearing the way for the demolition and razing of all three buildings.
The Saporta Report, an Atlanta-based "civic journalism" news website, has been all over the story since last fall, when fencing was erected around the three old buildings. The Saporta Report obtained a copy of the proposal between a contractor and the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health & Developmental Disabilities, which is the owner of the buildings. That proposal, which can be read BY CLICKING HERE, put the "demolition and safety containment cost" to pancake the Jones Building at $1.4 million, the price for the Walker Building at $803,000 and the price for the Green Building at $1.99 million.
Also included in the document is roughly $550,000 to raze "Steam Plant 1" and the "Communications Building."
“The goal is to complete demolition this fall,” a DBHDD spokesperson relayed to Saporta Report earlier this week
For a detailed Central State history lesson and much more information about the three buildings, CLICK HERE.
At this point, perhaps the big question is why. Why would the DBHDD and Kemp's office be so enthusiastic about spending $5 million to demolish three buildings down in Milledgeville? Well, their chief motive appears to be trespassers and the liability presented by trespassers exploring the three buildings.
“There are some persistent ghost hunters, college students, people who travel far and wide, or people in the community who are curious about these buildings and their history and what may be inside of them,” a DBHDD spokesperson relayed to Saporta Report back in November.
Earlier this week, meanwhile, a DBHDD spokesperson relayed to WMAZ/Channel 13 that "these buildings are extremely unsafe and pose a significant, if not deadly, risk to the public."
Reynolds told Baldwin2k that trespassers and legal liabilities indeed were primary concerns for state officials.
"The folks that are wanting to raze the buildings are worried that it's a public safety hazard. For the urban explorers and ghost hunters, it's an incredibly dangerous place. There are places in the Jones Building where the ceiling is completely detaching," he said.
So, if trespassers and Youtubers and ghost hunters are the primary concern, why not just buy a bunch of plywood and board up all of the accessible doors and windows? Baldwin2k wanted to know the answer to this, so it asked Reynolds.
"Those were actually discussions that were had in the past," he said. "I would think that it would be a lot more cost-effective."
Reynolds added that there are several companies that could perform the task which actually specialize in the area.
"It's basically storm prep. There are companies along the coast that do this professionally, essentially boarding up facilities and properties prior to a hurricane and major storm," Reynolds said.
Another option previously discussed, according to Reynolds, was "preserving the facades of the three buildings." This has been done with some aging and historic properties in Savannah, he added, and it's a process that involves tearing down and removing the guts of the building before "coming in with steel girders to support the exterior walls."
"It's basically like a shell," Reynolds said.
A certain percentage of the tourists and visitors who visit the CSH campus admittedly are trespassers, but the large majority are not. It's a relatively common sight to see people with out-of-county license plates walking around and exploring the perimeter of the buildings with cameras.
The local CVB also offers Central State trolley tours. Without the Green, Walker and Jones buildings, the CSH front campus will be a much less interesting and photogenic place. In terms of the way that the three buildings frame the pecan grove, much of its charm will be lost.
Then, there's also the historical aspect. The CSH campus initially was put on Georgia Trust's "Places in Peril" list back in 2010.
“We have been constant advocates for the preservation of these culturally and architecturally significant buildings, even going so far as to make grants to projects on the campus,” Georgia Trust President Mark McDonald told Saporta Report. “We would like to ask for a reprieve of this order to allow all parties to meet to pursue any avenues to avoid the demolition of these structures."
Also, the executive director of the Atlanta Preservation Council this week sent a letter to state officials.
“The complexity and challenge of this discussion is fraught with emotion,” wrote APC Executive Director David Yoakley Mitchell. “Yet the ultimate loss will be the experience of the patients that lived and died there, the families and residents affected by this place, and most of all, what it exposed of who and what we are. The removal of these buildings will be an erasure of all of that and more...My hope would be that this could be reconsidered, and they could be used as bridges from then to the now and the future we all want for our citizens and state.”
Meanwhile, an online petition back in October titled Stop the Destruction of Historic Central State Hospital Buildings. Milledgeville, Ga" received over a thousand signatures.
States the text of the petition: "Stop the destruction of Historic Central State Buildings such as the Walker and Jones Buildings and the Steam plant Central State Hospital is of great historical value to the state of Georgia and is the final resting place to tens of thousands of former patients. Some of these buildings could be saved for apartments or offices or historic tours to help the economy of Baldwin County and the state of Georgia. Contact your state senators the Governor's office or Judy Fitzgerald commissioner of Georgia DBHDD to stop the Destruction of these historical buildings or at the very least hear the people out."