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.
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.
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.
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.