Northville to tear down shuttered psych hospital

James David Dickson
The Detroit News
The long-closed Northville Psychiatric Hospital is scheduled to be torn down in 2018

Next year, the township of Northville will tear down the Northville Psychiatric Hospital, long viewed as a blight in the area. 

The hospital has been as much an attraction for trespassers as a blight for passersby on Seven Mile. Since acquiring the property containing the hospital in 2009, the township has had to spend about $100,000-a-year securing the property, officials said. Thus far in 2017, Northville Township Police have made about 400 arrests against trespassers.

Despite that demonstrated public interest, though, there will be no guided tours, for the public or the press, before demolition begins. The same environmental concerns that made Northville's town fathers want the building torn down are the same ones that make it so vigilant in keeping people away, explained township manager Chip Snyder.

"Due to environmental issues at the site, not only in the building but in the soils near it, there is no intention" to welcome the public to the site before demolition begins, as is expected in April, Snyder told The News. "Those buildings are completely replete with asbestos. The winds, over the years, have blown the asbestos from inside the buildings to the surrounding soils. I'm afraid that, while it's of public interest, they're going to have to view it from afar."

The site has been a popular destination for thrill-seekers, trespassers, and scrappers.

Just last month, Northville Township Police Department, in an effort to ward off trespassers around Halloween, warned of its "zero tolerance" policy and its 400 trespassing arrests made to that point in the year.

Northville police patrol the grounds "all the time," and have cited and arrested about 400 people this year for trespassing, said Lt. Mike Burrough.

The asbestos is a "huge issue" inside the buildings, Burrough said. "It's airborne at this point," to the point that police patrols don't go inside the buildings themselves. 

Trespassers get caught outdoors, Burrough said. Trespassers are briefly detained and cited and have to show up for a court date for the misdemeanor offense.

"It's not like getting a speeding ticket," Burrough said.

Northville voters approved the acquisition of 350 acres around the property in 2009, at a cost of $23.5 million. Once it's torn down – demolition is expected between April and July – the plan is to turn the property at Seven Mile, just west of Haggerty, into a park and an open space.

In a statement from the township, supervisor Robert Nix said that "for the past several years, scrappers and trespassers have vandalized the property, spreading asbestos and (accelerating) the deterioration of the buildings." Environmental clean-up will now cost "millions" more than once quoted, Nix wrote. 

Buildings on the site have been coming down for years. The power house, maintenance building and the smokestacks nearby were torn down; the removal alone of asbestos and waste cost $600,000.

But the nine-story hospital, which has two stories below ground, has been the draw of the site. Its demolition is funded from the proceeds of the development of the former Scott Correctional Facility site at Five Mile and Beck. The township got the property for $1 from the state, and demolished the facility "without cost." 

But the state had to sign off on any non-public use. Nix says he convinced it to do so by splitting the money from the sale. This gave Northville $5 million to use to demolish the psychiatric hospital.

This month, the property will be fenced in, floodlights will be set up, video surveillance installed, and security will patrol outside of work hours. A year from now the demolition is scheduled to be complete.