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State report outlines potential new locations for Austin State Hospital

Wednesday, September 21, 2016 by Syeda Hasan

Austin is home to one of the first mental health care facilities in Texas, but state lawmakers are considering selling the property and relocating the facility.

The Austin State Hospital admits about 4,000 patients a year, serving 39 counties. But its buildings, housed on a campus near Hyde Park, are aging. A 2015 state report found the hospital to be in need of replacement, and that could mean big changes for the surrounding neighborhood.

Reid Long is co-president of the Hyde Park Neighborhood Association. Earlier this year, the group voted overwhelmingly to preserve historic structures on the hospital campus. It also wants any future development there to be restricted to public use.

“Our area grew up in large part based upon that campus being there, so I think it’s important for our future growth for us to be involved and engaged in that process,” Long said.

But suggestions from neighborhood associations are just that – nonbinding opinions of what could be done. Official word will come from the state. Several possibilities for what that might be were recently released by the state’s Health and Human Services Commission in a report weighing six different options for relocating the hospital. Some of those involve consolidating its campus with the Austin State Supported Living Center. Long said he supports rebuilding the hospital, or merging it with the State Supported Living Center, all on its current site.

“I believe neither one of these specifically limit any future development on those sites,” Long said. “They do allow for small amounts of the land to be sold, but they do maintain large portions of it.”

In fact, the last option outlined in the report would allow for the sale or lease of more than 55 acres of the campus while redeveloping the hospital on its current site. That plan also seems to align with the views of another neighborhood group, the Friends of Hyde Park, which supports new development on the campus.

Alejandro Puyana is on the group’s board of directors. He said if the hospital is moved, he would like to see its mental health services remain somewhere near Hyde Park. He also hopes part of the campus will be used to build affordable housing.

“It kind of creates a very good balance,” Puyana said. “It keeps services on-site, but on a reduced format with new facilities – state-of-the-art facilities that could provide those same services – but at the same time, it frees up about 55 acres of land to be developed.”

The report recommends further research before a decision is made. The future of the hospital could be decided by the Texas Legislature next year.

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This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT. Photo by Miguel Gutierrez Jr./KUT. 

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