Historic Austin State Hospital’s $300 million redesign may open by summer

Mayor Kirk Watson said the newly renovated Austin State Hospital, Texas’ oldest mental health hospital, may be open to the public by May.

A rendering of the Austin State Hospital building, with tan stone walls and expansive, lush green space. The entrance to the hospital has a wood-lined overhanging shade structure and tall, glossy windows above it.

The Austin State Hospital will contain 240 beds, once completed.

Rendering courtesy Page Southerland Page

The revamped Austin State Hospital — Texas’ oldest hospital for the care of people with mental illness — may open by summertime, Mayor Kirk Watson said in a recent newsletter.

The 162-year-old site embodies a lot of complicated local history, but as Watson sees it, it also holds a lot of potential for the wellbeing of our community. Let’s dig in.

Past

The Austin State Hospital opened as an asylum in 1861 with 12 patients. As one of the state’s first mental illness treatment centers, the hospital was innovative for its time, but also carried out systemic segregation and racist practices for the better part of a century.

The site’s history has been an important part of the redevelopment, which included archaeological excavations of the hospital’s former women’s dorms and African American dorm, dining hall, hospital, and tuberculosis wards.

The reconstruction of the old hospital is years in the making, with none other than Watson himself spearheading the charge. As a Texas State Senator, Watson helped pass the legislation that resulted in a contract between Texas Health and Human Services to redesign ASH.

In total, 14 buildings were demolished to make room for the new hospital. The historic administrative building remains intact.

The historic Austin State Hospital building, with columns out front, a domed top, and pale brick.

The Austin State Hospital is the oldest hospital in Texas geared toward the care of people with mental illness.

Photo via Renelibrary, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Present

The $305 million rebuild was designed by Page Southerland Page in partnership with the UT Dell Medical School. The new space is “full of light with lots of outdoor access,” Watson said.

The site consists of 24-bed units with therapy rooms, classrooms, exercise rooms, and activity rooms. The hospital will also house a music and art room, chapel, salon, basketball courts, walking trails, and outdoor exercise equipment.

Future

Watson said the newly reconstructed hospital may open by May with 240 beds. The mayor also touched on making this place home to some of his other “big ideas,” hinting at more to come.