Raleigh, N.C. — As the state moved forward with plans on Friday to begin closing North Carolina’s oldest state-run mental institution, discussion is resurfacing on what to do with the 306 acres that make up the Dorothea Dix Hospital Campus.
The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services announced in September that it was closing Dorothea Dix Hospital to help cut approximately $17 million of $28 million in operating costs that weren’t allocated in the 2010-11 state budget.
The hospital on Friday stopped admitting most adult patients, with the exception of those who committed a crime and are ordered there by a judge.
Eventually all patients will be treated at Cherry Hospital in Goldsboro and Central Regional Hospital in Butner.
According to a DHHS timeline, the hospital could close its doors as early as next fall.
When that happens, Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker wants to turn the 306-acre Dix property, which overlooks downtown, into an urban park similar to New York’s Central Park.
He said he expects to discuss his vision with the governor's office in the next few weeks.
DHHS wants to keep the property, which is the headquarters for the department.
More than 1,400 employees work on the Dix campus, and approximately 20 of the buildings on the property are on the National Historic Registry, including the hospital.
“This is the heartbeat of the operation,” DHHS spokeswoman Renee McCoy said.
Meeker said that buildings on the property that require renovation and aren’t part of the historic registry should come down, at some point.
The state should build a new headquarters for DHHS in downtown, he said, where several other state agencies are housed.
Another 1,700 other DHHS employees work in leased space around downtown at a cost of $7 million to $8 million each year.
“That's where the employees would go,” he said. “Having your employees spread out over different buildings is not efficient and, over time, the renovation costs will be substantial.”
McCoy said DHHS has no plans to relocate.
“Fourteen hundred employees would be a lot of people to find additional space for,” she said. “This is where they’ve been housed. This is where work is being done.”
Talk about what to do with the Dix property has been going on for years.
In 2007, the city offered to buy the campus and use the historical buildings for purposes compatible for a destination park.
It would be up to the General Assembly, however, to approve a land deal were the state willing to sell the property.