FERGUS FALLS, Minn. – About 200 people shuffled in and out of apartments for rent here Friday on the grounds of the former Regional Treatment Center, some curious, some in support of its potential redevelopment and some who may soon live there.
The century-old former state mental health hospital, now on the National Register of Historic Places and known as the Kirkbride, has, as of Saturday, people living on its campus for the first time in a decade.
Campus Development Group showed off its Campus View Apartments’ Red Brick Complex – on the RTC campus and east of the main Kirkbride structure – during an open house Friday, displaying seven one-bedroom and three two-bedroom apartments on three floors, all for rent to the public.
As of Tuesday, the complex has four confirmed tenants, including two who moved in Saturday: Atlanta-based filmmaker Nik Nerburn and Minneapolis-based photographer Ethan Smith.
The apartments are in a former male nurse’s dormitory directly adjacent to the main Kirkbride building.
“We are really excited to have our first building virtually completed,” said Jeff Schlossman, a real estate developer working on the project. “People seem to be really pleased with what they see and happy with the renovation.”
The group – with lead architect and partner Kevin Bartram – planned out the apartments’ layouts and used renovated versions of the building’s original hardwood floors where possible.
The development group registered the Campus View apartment building in the National U.S. Park Service’s Register of Historic Places three weeks ago and have been able to make their improvements since.
The register has also set limitations on what could be altered in the buildings like certain windows and door frames. Schlossman said exterior finishing and painting has been postponed due to winter weather and will occur sometime in the spring.
“It has a certain historic appeal and nice feel,” Schlossman said. “The good thing is the building is so well built. It’s not going to go anywhere. It’s built to last.”
Schlossman said the open house was successful beyond their expectations and that the development group needs to get moving with the project based on the number of applications they’ve seen. They are excited to move on and get more buildings in usable form.
“We wish we had two buildings ready right now,” Schlossman said.
Drive to make a change
Schlossman said he is thankful to be working with a strong support group in Fergus Falls that believes in the renovation of the Kirkbride. Two of those people are natives Maxine and Gene Schmidt, who spearheaded a petition in 2005 to save the Kirkbride.
“All we heard was demolish, demolish,” Maxine Schmidt said. “I thought, ‘Why would you do that? Just look at it.’ We had to do something about it.”
The Schmidts are members of Friends of the Kirkbride, an organization that has been supporting renovations for years and were in large attendance at the open house with their clothing pins.
The Schmidts have been giving tours there in the summers for about 10 years to educate people about the asset Fergus Falls has and have done tours for thousands, according to Maxine Schmidt. They said it’s a treat to see the campus expanding in the way that it is.
“It’s been difficult and there have been ups and downs, but this is very positive,” Maxine Schmidt said.
Upscale art combines with the familiar
Springboard for the Arts is also happy with the group’s progress, according to its directors. The group announced earlier this year that it would host 10 artists either on the RTC grounds or in the Fergus Falls area as part of a grant, with eight of the artists living on the campus two at a time.
As their artist residency program continues, the directors believe their artists will feel right at home in these modern but historic apartments.
“I wish I was one of the artists living here,” Springboard program director Michele Anderson said. “You can tell they are going to be really comfortable here.”
The rooms were designed by artist development coordinator Naomi Schliesman to include artwork from past Springboard projects with the Kirkbride. These include a colorful mural of the building painted by LeAnn Larson at the Kirkbride Arts and History Weekend last year and pieces by Kirk Williams, a former Kirkbride nurse.
The first two artists to live on campus, Nerburn and Smith, moved onto Campus View Saturday as part of Hinge Arts, the second phase of Imagine Fergus Falls, a project that was launched in September 2012.
The project has engaged dozens of artists in fostering interaction about the past and future of the Kirkbride Building, a 500,000-square-foot mental health institution that permanently closed in 2005. This phase of Imagine Fergus Falls will allow Springboard to partner with developers, artists and local cultural organizations to animate the Kirkbride campus through on-site artist residencies and the third annual Kirkbride Arts and History Weekend, which will be Sept. 18 through 20.
“We’ve been involved with the Kirkbride for year but it feels absolutely amazing to have physical presence on the campus now,” Anderson said. “It’s like a dream. These artists are going to come into town and see how much the community cares about the building.”