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Focus | Groundbreaking development at new WSH

Governor in town to help mark occasion

Story by Chris Graham
With AFP Video

Government doesn’t have a reputation for doing something that makes as much sense as the work that is going into the construction of the new Western State Hospital, which is being built adjacent to the current WSH campus in Staunton as part of a land swap that will give the city highly marketable commercial property at the nexus of Interstate 64 and Interstate 81.

“The clients and staff at Western State Hospital will be the beneficiaries of the development of a state-of-the-art behvioral-health facility. The Staunton community will benefit from the development of a key property at Interstate 81 and 64. And the citizens of Virginia benefit from the cost-effective solution to funding for the new hospital and good stewardship of an underutilized state asset that will generate future tax revenues for the Commonwealth and jobs for Virginians when the existing campus is developed,” Staunton Mayor Lacy King said at the Tuesday-morning groundbreaking at the site of the new Western State.

The $125 million project is scheduled to be completed in 2013. The new 246-bed hospital is a joint effort of the state and the city. The General Assembly committed $110 million toward the new hospital in 2008, with the city kicking in $15 million and the deed to the property off North Frontier Drive that it purchased and began getting ready for development in 1999.


AFP Video: The groundbreaking



In return for its $15 million and the real estate, the city gets approximately 250 acres from the state that are currently being occupied by the hospital and are considered prime commercial real estate with access to the Richmond Road/U.S. 250 corridor at the intersection of Interstate 81 and Interstate 64.

“I would describe it as a win-win. I think Staunton is going to get a renovated site, a multi-hundred-acre site where Western State is now, that will be a mixed-use development, commercial and residential, that I think will be a very attractive one. Staunton is attracting a lot of interest because of the great work that’s been done in renovating and reusing historic structures, so that will continue that strategic advantage that Staunton has. And then this facility here will provide state-of-the-art care in a way that I think others will want to come and see what’s done here and copy it,” said Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, who was on hand for today’s groundbreaking ceremony.

The city and the state began talks about the joint WSH project back in 2005. The state’s interest stemmed largely from the desire to do something to improve operational efficiencies at Western State, which is operating on a 24-building campus that was built to accommodate a patient population that hit a peak of 3,300 in 1963 but is down to 245 today.

Another interest for the state was to design a new Western State based on new models of delivery of mental-health care based on person-centered therapy.

“The perception in the 19th century and well into the 20th century was that mental illness was not curable, that it was simply something to be managed. We have learned a lot in the ensuing two centuries that brings us here today to this new facility, which takes a completely different approach,” Sixth District Congressman Bob Goodlatte said at today’s ceremony.

“We’ve been moving from a model that’s been heavy on the institutionalization side to a model that is more based on community care – smaller institutions, more care in the community, more outpatient services. This new facility really matches up with the right way to deal with mental-health issues. It’s a real step forward in the way we look at mental-health issues,” Kaine said.


AFP Video: Gov. Tim Kaine talks about the WSH project



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