WEST BRADFORD—A long-awaited plan for a public park at the site of the former Embreeville State School and Hospital cleared a major hurdle this week when Chester County was awarded a $1.5 million grant to acquire the 163-acre tract.

“I am thrilled that this grant has been approved, said state Rep. Christina Sappey, D-158th, of West Bradford. "We have been working on this for a very long time and this is the best possible outcome. West Bradford Township and its residents should be commended for their commitment to open space. It’s because of their proactive stance that a large-scale development that would have changed the region forever was prevented.”

For years, developers had plans to build 1,100 residential units and 50,000 square feet of commercial space at the site of the former Embreeville State Hospital grounds. Developers even sought a zoning change to move forward with their plans since purchasing the land in 2013 for more than $1 million.

But last year, after strong opposition from township residents, West Bradford officials settled on the purchase of nearly 200 acres of the property, appraised at more than $22 million. However, clean-up costs t meet environmental standards were estimated at $18.6 million. Issues include asbestos, mold and possible soil contamination.

West Bradford obtained the $22 million in funding through a combination of a Department of Conservation and Natural Resources grant and locally supported township and county open space funds. In addition to the 200 acres of open space, the settlement provided for the real estate developer to cover the estimated $13 million cost for demolishing the old hospital site; removing asbestos, mold, and possible soil contamination; and seeding and regrading the soil for future use.

After reaching an agreement with West Bradford Township last year, a total of more than 200 acres will be converted into open space for active and passive recreation. Plans for the space include walking trails, improved ball fields and municipal services space.

Soon after the agreement was reached last year, West Bradford supervisors Jack Hines, Laurie Abele and Bill Christman expressed their gratitude in a joint statement: “By helping our township reach its goal of preserving the former Embreeville State Hospital complex as open space, the commissioners have ensured that the residents of West Bradford Township, and Chester County as a whole, will be able to enjoy this land for generations to come. This commitment from the county solidifies our partnership and greatly helps to reduce the burden to West Bradford residents.”

The DCNR Community Conservation Partnerships Program is funded with state and federal sources, including the Keystone Recreation, Park and Conservation Fund, which includes Key-Community and Key-Land Trust; the Environmental Stewardship Fund; the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund; Pennsylvania Trails Fund; Pennsylvania Heritage Area Program; and the ATV Restricted Management Account Fund.

Embreeville Hospital's roots began in 1900, when patients from Norristown State Hospital were relocated to the new Embreeville asylum, which was functioning as a semi-autonomous hospital. Over time, additional modern buildings were constructed to house a growing mentally ill population. It was officially acquired by the state from Chester County in 1914.In 1938 the commonwealth took total control of the facility.

In 1971, a juvenile detention center was built at the hospital site, before finally moving on to better physical accommodations in Danville in 1992. By 1979, the total statewide state hospital census was reduced to 10,573 patients, and resulted in the closure of several smaller state hospitals. Embreeville was the second state facility in Pennsylvania to close its doors, in 1980.

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