Some of the large state asylums for the mentally ill built in the late 1800s were designed with the idea that natural beauty has a healing effect. And architects designed the buildings to be majestic… not just institutional looking. In the decades since the asylums closed, their stately grounds remain valuable. But many of the fine buildings either have been torn down or are facing demolition. Some are being partially renovated for new uses. The GLRC’s Bob Allen reports on one of the very few in the country that’s being fully restored:
Some of the large state asylums for the mentally ill built in the late 1800s
were designed with the idea that natural beauty has a healing effect. And
architects designed the buildings to be majestic… not just institutional
looking. In the decades since the asylums closed, their stately grounds
remain valuable. But many of the fine buildings either have been torn
down or are facing demolition. Some are being partially renovated for
new uses. The GLRC’s Bob Allen reports on one of the very few in the
country that’s being fully restored:
Gently winding roads guide you through views of century-old trees and
rolling lawns that make up the surroundings of this old asylum. Open
meadows are remnants of the farm where residents raised all their own
food. The physical labor and park-like setting contributed to their
Ray Minervini loves the surroundings… but he says the buildings
themselves added a healing dimension.
“If you stand on the front lawn of this building you don’t have to be a
student of architecture to appreciate that it’s a thing of beauty. I mean the
proportions of the building, the size of the windows, the pitch of the roof,
the height of the spires. It’s the way that we used to construct buildings. We
don’t do that anymore.”
The four story brick and stone structures soar above the trees. Developer
Ray Minervini says they were built to last 500 years or more.
He thinks they deserve to be preserved as much as the natural
“The brick you’re looking at here were laid 121 years ago. The stone
foundations, you can see about 4 and a half feet of limestone, they
actually laid stone into the ground as opposed to concrete.
Those stone walls are 2 and a half feet thick.”
But across the country many of these large state mental hospitals have
fallen into ruin and are being demolished.
Kate Allen is graduate student in the architecture program at Columbia
University in New York City. She studies asylums designed according
to the plan of psychiatrist Thomas Kirkbride. He adapted principles of
care from the Quakers. They include plenty of light and fresh air in a
clean idyllic setting.
Allen has found records for 64 asylums built in the Kirkbride style.
Twenty of them have been torn down. Of those remaining she considers
a dozen under threat right now, and she thinks the Minervini Group in
Michigan offers the only existing model for renovating an entire site.
“Not only are they preserving the smaller structures and the Kirkbride
core, but through the historic easement, the landscape it can’t be
encroached on with development. It gives you that feeling that it was a
But the Northern Michigan Asylum barely escaped destruction. After the
hospital closed it sat vacant for nearly a quarter century. Gaping holes in
the roof caused a lot of water damage. An outside developer wanted to
demolish and build new, but a hometown group stepped in and blocked
the wrecking ball. Then along came Ray Minervini with his vision for a
mix of new uses in the historic buildings.
Raymond Minervini is Ray’s son and business partner. He works on
marketing the project, and he says the people who believe in the vision
and are willing to invest in it are making it happen.
“And in a way they’re co-developers too because they’re stepping
forward with their capital to purchase space or lease space to establish a
business or create a home. That’s what makes the preservation possible.
Otherwise this is just a building waiting to fall down.”
The Minervini Group has been working on the redevelopment for nearly
six years. It’s a huge enterprise.
The core of the old state hospital and surrounding buildings represent a
million square feet for redevelopment, and Ray Minervini says that
translates into a 200 to 300 million dollar project… but it’s going
forward without a lot of fanfare.
“We’re doing it in phases, one section at a time, so it doesn’t appear so
big. We are under the radar screen, but collectively when you look at the
whole site and realize what that equates to it’s the largest rehab project
for sure in the Midwest.”
The Minervini Group has completed the first segment of what they call
The Village at Grand Traverse Commons. Already built and fully
occupied are business and condo spaces plus a restaurant and art gallery.
Ray Minervini says there’s still a long way to go, but with lights on and
people in the building there’s a growing sense the place is coming back
More and more state governments are saying the federal government’s guidelines for reducing mercury emissions from power plants don’t go far enough fast enough. The GLRC’s Rebecca Williams reports:
More and more state governments are saying the federal government’s
guidelines for reducing mercury emissions from power plants don’t go far
enough fast enough. The GLRC’s Rebecca Williams reports:
Mercury is a neurotoxin that can cause brain damage in fetuses and small
children. More than 20 states are planning to cut mercury emissions beyond the
Zoe Lipman is with the National Wildlife Federation. She says many
states are taking action because they feel the federal rule is not protecting
“Originally you saw movement in the eastern states and now you’re
seeing movement in many of the heavy coal burning states – PA, MI,
even Indiana is still considering stronger than federal rules, IL – we’re
really seeing change in the core fossil fuel burning part of the country.”
Lipman says mercury reduction technology for power plants has become
cheaper in recent years, but utility companies say they’re still concerned
about the expense and meeting the states’ shorter time frames.
Pennsylvania has joined a growing number of states that are cutting mercury emissions beyond federal guidelines. Mercury is a neurotoxin that can cause brain damage in fetuses and small children. The GLRC’s Susan Phillips
Pennsylvania has joined a growing number of states that are cutting
mercury emissions beyond the federal guidelines. Mercury is a
neurotoxin that can cause brain damage in fetuses and small children.
The GLRC’s Susan Phillips reports:
Pennsylvania officials say the EPA’s current mercury standards threaten
public health. That’s why they announced a plan this week to reduce
mercury pollution by 90 percent within the next decade.
Michael Fiorentino is an environmental lawyer and a member of a
committee that will review the plan.
“Pennsylvania has some very significant coal fired power plants and the
mercury emissions are also significant so it’s the perfect opportunity for
the state to step in and do more than what the federal government was
willing to do.”
Industry representatives in Pennsylvania say the new standards will put
the state’s power plants at a competitive disadvantage. They support the
less stringent federal guidelines.
With three dozen coal burning plants, Pennsylvania is one of the largest
mercury polluters in the country.
Four Great Lakes states have some of the most severe cases of mercury contamination in the country. That’s according to a recent report by the group Environmental Defense. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Erin Toner has more:
Four Great Lakes states have some of the most severe cases of mercury contamination in the
country. That’s according to a recent report by the group “Environmental Defense.” The Great
Lakes Radio Consortium’s Erin Toner has more:
Michigan, Indiana, Illinois and Pennsylvania made the group’s top 10 list of places with the worst
mercury pollution. Mercury can cause brain damage in babies whose mothers eat contaminated
fish. The report says mercury in the ground and water often comes from local sources, such as
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is working on new mercury rules for power plants.
But Michael Shore, of Environmental Defense, says the rules aren’t strong enough.
Other sectors have been required to reduce their mercury pollution by 90 percent. These
standards would only reduce mercury pollution by 70 percent. Also, these standards wouldn’t be
in place until 2018.
The EPA’s policy could use a market-based approach. That allows companies to buy pollution
credits from others that have emission controls in place. Environmentalists say instead, the EPA
should force all power companies to pollute less.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Erin Toner.
An Ohio jury has awarded neighbors of a large factory farm $19.7 million in damages. People living near Buckeye Egg Farm in central Ohio have complained for years of fly infestations and odors. The outcome is seen as a victory by those living next to large-scale farm operations throughout the region. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Natalie Walston has the story:
An Ohio jury has awarded neighbors of a large factory farm 19.7 million dollars in damages. People living near Buckeye Egg Farm in Central Ohio have complained for years of fly infestations and odors. The outcome of the lawsuit may or may not affect similar cases in other states. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Natalie Walston reports.
(Natural sound of locusts, wind, dog barking in the distance)
Freda Douthitt’s house sits at the end of a gravel lane. The driveway is surrounded by trees and wild flowers. She’s always liked it here because it’s secluded … she’s a couple miles from a rural road. She likes to sit on the multi-tiered back patio that overlooks a small pond. That’s where she grades composition papers from her Freshman English class at Ohio University.
(sound of flies)
But she has also had to swat at flies for the past ten years. Douthitt collects flies in a container that is nearly the size of a gallon milk jug. She estimates this one has about 2-3 inches worth of decomposing flies and maggots collected since August 22.
“It smells out here. That’s the flytrap. That keeps some of them from getting in the house. Today there’s a few flies out here. There are days when that wall would be just polka dotted with them.
Douthitt has frozen the containers of flies and collected them over the years. She took them to court with her to prove the problems she deals with living near a factory farm.
That’s what helped her win a 1.2 million dollar share of a settlement with Buckeye Egg Farm. It’s one of the world’s largest egg-laying producers. Douthitt’s house is three-quarters of a mile from one of the company’s egg-laying plants. The flies come from the vast amounts of manure produced by millions of chickens housed at the company’s barns. The manure gets spread on farm fields that surround Douthitt’s house after harvest season in the fall. Since then … she has watched as run-off from Buckeye Egg properties killed tens-of-thousands of fish in a nearby creek. She has even seen the creek water turn purple.
She says she never expected to win in court against the company when she began the legal battle 9 years ago.
“I never thought about suing. Until one of the neighbors I’d been working hard with trying to get the EPA to do something … trying to get the county health department interested … um, we were both frustrated at that point. She called up one evening and said we’re ready to call a lawyer, are you? And I said, yeah, I’ll meet with you.
As the years went by I became pretty frustrated, and wondered what would make a difference.”
Douthitt and 20 of her neighbors won a 19.7 million dollar lawsuit against Buckeye Egg.
This win has other people in Great Lakes states hopeful they too can win in court against large factory farms.
Julie Janson of Olivia, Minnesota knows Douthitt’s story all too well. Janson has been fighting hog factory farm owner Valadco for 6 years. Her house sits sandwiched between two of the company’s hog barns. Janson and her husband filed a lawsuit this spring against the company. They are asking for close to 200-thousand dollars because Janson says her family of eight gets sick from manure odors.
Janson says she took her 11-year-old daughter to a specialist in California to prove she has brain damage from smelling hydrogen sulfide.
Decomposing manure creates hydrogen sulfide gas and ammonia that smells like rotten eggs.
“Sometimes it’s enough to gag a maggot. The stink is putrid. And, it penetrates through your house, through the windows and doors. Every little crack in your home.”
Janson says her family has spent one hundred thousand dollars to fight Valadco.
She had to close her daycare center, which she ran from her home, partly because of the stench. Her husband is supporting the family with his truck-driving job that brings in nearly 38-thousand dollars a year.
She says a win over Buckeye Egg farm in Ohio is a victory that can help her cause.
“There’s finally been some justice served. Some of these people have been fighting for over ten years. And … to me … it just says no matter how long and painful it is, you need to fight for justice because if us citizens don’t fight it’s never gonna happen.”
Both Janson and Douthitt say it’s not the money that will make them happy.
Douthitt says she will probably never see the money that she is owed.
But … she says the county judge may force the company to clean up its farms and the surrounding communities.
“How can they have that many animals and that much manure and let it just pour out and not treat it? They let it just pour out onto the land.”
Buckeye egg farm officials have said they may appeal the verdict. The company says it has already spent millions of dollars to try and clean up its facilities. Earlier this year, Buckeye Egg settled a multi-million dollar lawsuit with Ohio’s attorney general’s office. The state sued the company for dumping dead chickens in a field and polluting creeks by spilling contaminated water. The state has since filed seven sets of contempt charges against Buckeye Egg for not correcting the problems. It’s still undecided whether Buckeye Egg will file for bankruptcy following the verdict.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Natalie Walston.
A toxic leftover from the Cold War is polluting soil and water at sites across the country. More than two dozen sites in the Great Lakes region could be contaminated by a chemical used in rocket fuel. The chemical was either used or stored at the sites. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports: