New jobs, businesses coming to Central State Hospital

MILLEDGEVILLE, Georgia (41NBC/WMGT) – Central State Hospital in Milledgeville will never be the largest mental health institution in the world again. The last patient left the Craig Nursing Center in April.

The local redevelopment authority believes there is plenty of opportunity to turn all of that land into jobs and businesses for the community.

“Stuff is getting moved. Dirt is moving today,” Mike Couch, the executive director of the Central State Hospital Local Redevelopment Authority said.

The dirt marks the first private construction on CSH’s campus in 170 years. Couch is hoping there will be more.

“The vision is that we find a private use or public use for every building that has market value on this campus and we create jobs,” Couch said.

Couch is tasked with the responsibility of finding a new purpose for the hospital. He estimates it costs the state $14 million a year just to keep the campus up and running.

“We’ve got to keep these buildings acclimated,” Couch said. “We need to take care of the grounds as much as possible.”

Still, he predicts about 25% of the buildings will have to come down.

“They have no market value, plus they’re just not in the condition you can spend the money to rehabilitate them,” Couch said.

There are more than 200 buildings on 2,000 acres of land. Couch says that adds up to big possibilities for the future.

“I think the vision will unfold itself as time goes on,” Couch said.

There are already a few projects and ideas in the works.

The new Correct Life Bostick Nursing Center opens in February and will bring 225 jobs to the area. The facility is for parolees who suffer from a terminal illness, but are stuck in the state’s prison with nowhere else to go.

The redevelopment authority is working on a new high-tech cottage community for homeless veterans who served after 9/11 and suffer from post traumatic stress disorder or a traumatic brain injury. The federally funded project is estimated to cost about $18 million.

The state is opening its third Youth Challenge Academy on the campus in July 2016. It will create 125 jobs, as well as help young people finish high school, get a diploma, and go to college.

Couch also hopes to start a “communiversity.” It will provide the tools needed for anyone with a business idea to bring it to life.

“The Central State Hospital [Redevelopment] board is doing well in pursuing multiple ideas and realizing it will take many ideas to repurpose this facility,” Baldwin County Commissioner Henry Craig said.

Craig sits on the redevelopment authority board. He hopes to replace the thousands of jobs lost when the campus started shutting down in 2009.

“Fifty years ago, this was the engine that drove our community. it was the business that would never fail. Well, guess what? It did fail,” Craig said. “To take this property and privatize it and put it back on the tax rolls is the most important thing, the most greatest opportunity to change the direction of our community.”

But that will take time.

“This is probably a 10 to 15 year project, but I think we’ve demonstrated it works,” Couch said. “The model will work with the right support all the way to the governor’s office. Somebody will finish the work, but hopefully we’ve started it.”

The Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities still treats about 180 patients at the Cook Forensic Hospital on Central State Hospital’s campus. It serves people with mental illness or developmental disability who are also involved in the court system.

Categories: Baldwin County, Local News

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