Fergus Falls mental hospital faces demolition, receives group hug [PHOTO]

The state mental hospital in Fergus Falls received a group hug on Saturday.
The state mental hospital in Fergus Falls received a group hug on Saturday.
Photo courtesy of Friends of the Kirkbride.

The empty state mental hospital in Fergus Falls, a sprawling castle-like building, is in danger of demolition unless a developer is found by December 14.

So the building's advocates, who call themselves Friends of the Kirkbride, gathered around the six-block-long building Saturday in a group hug to bring attention to the former hospital's dilemma while possibly setting a world record.

Here's a photo of the hug on one block of the building:

A group hug around the former mental institution in Fergus Falls.
A group hug around the former mental institution in Fergus Falls.
Photo courtesy of Jean Roen.

The old hospital is one of a disappearing group of mental institutions built according to the guidelines of Dr. Thomas Kirkbride, who believed the mentally ill should be treated in extremely comfortable facilities.

A member of Friends of the Kirkbride, Jean Roen, said 436 people signed the group's petition Saturday, and she estimates that even more showed up to hug the building.

"We made it about three quarters of the way around the building, which was pretty impressive," Roen said.

Friends of the Kirkbride plan to submit documentation of their feat to the Guinness Book of World Records. According to Roen, the group could not find a previous record for hugging a building. She said it could be up to six weeks before they hear from Guinness regarding whether their record has been accepted.

But to Roen, the record is secondary to the cause. She believes that developing the building could boost Fergus Falls' economy.

"Our little town has been hit by the recession to a point," she says. "Unemployment is about the same as the rest of the state, but the biggest thing is the young people -- there's nothing to keep them here, there are no new jobs."

She says she and the other Friends of the Kirkbride would like to see the building used in much the same way another Kirkbride hospital in Traverse City, Michigan has been used. "They have bakeries, condos, and boutiques in that one," Roen said.

The city of Fergus Falls has been trying for nearly a decade to find a developer to re-use the hospital, according to MPR. Several planned developments have fallen through when the developers could not raise the money needed for projects they proposed. 

Over the years, the hospital has been used as a backdrop for an independent horror movie and has also attracted people interested in doing paranormal testing, according to Fergus Falls City Administrator Mark Sievert.

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