A few months ago, Mike Couch went to the Department of Behavioral Health & Developmental Disabilities with a problem.
Ghost hunters, thrill seekers, selfie enthusiasts and other trespassers routinely were sneaking into the old buildings around Central State Hospital.
“We needed a solution. We would board up the buildings, and (the trespassers) would pull the boards back and go inside anyway. We tried everything,” said Couch, the executive director of the Central State Hospital Local Redevelopment Authority, the group tasked with reviving the old CSH campus.
With the permission of the state, Couch began instructing campus security officers to pursue trespassing arrests. Since that time, roughly a dozen trespassers, all younger people, have been arrested, charged with one count of criminal trespass and processed at the county jail. Once security guards spot trespassers, they are instructed to pass it along to the Milledgeville Police Department, due to the fact that the Central State campus is part of the city limits.
Couch said that it’s important to remember that the CSHLRA does not own any of the old buildings surrounding the pecan grove. The structures are state surplus buildings and state property, as opposed to CSHLRA property.
“We don’t worry about whose inventory it is. Even though we don’t own the buildings, we believe in doing the right thing. It’s about protecting people, and those buildings pose some serious safety risks,” Couch said.
In terms of the longterm solution, Couch’s plan has always been to preserve the facades of the three old buildings flanking the pecan grove – the Jones, Green and Walker buildings. In theory, the facades would be reinforced with a steel shell that would not be visible from the road, while all brick, debris and other materials would be removed. This would allow developers to one day build new construction directly behind the facades of the old buildings.
That plan, of course, would require a relative large sum of money. Couch previously planned to approach the General Assembly this year about funding. Then came the pandemic, however.
“We aren’t letting go of our goal, but it will just take some time,” Couch said. “(The facade project) would create some tax incentives for private developers to come in and do new work, and it really could really be a tremendous asset for our campus and this community.