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State to study future possible uses of former J.N. Adam Developmental Center

For more than 20 years, thrill-seekers, vandals, scavengers and nature have taken their toll on the former J.N. Adam Developmental Center, which opened in 1912 as a hospital to treat tuberculosis patients.

“Urban explorers” and “ghost hunters” continue to skirt or scale the high chain-link fence enclosing most of the buildings.

Vandals and scavengers have stripped fixtures and furniture from buildings. Lead paint has flaked and crumbled and fallen to the floors. Rain and snow falling through holes in the roof have contributed to the growth of vegetation inside some rooms of the sprawling complex in the Cattaraugus County Town of Perrysburg.

Many people blame those conditions on the state, which took over the property for use as a mental health facility, known as J.N. Adam Developmental Center, and then abandoned the main campus in 1993.

“It’s criminal how the state just walked away,” said Buffalo attorney Michael Kuzma, who was active in Friends of J.N. Adam Historic Landmark and Forest, a preservation group.

The state took a step toward correcting that in June when the State Legislature declared the center abandoned property and ordered a study on best alternatives uses of the property.

“The Perrysburg community deserves to have the state and local governments address the issues confronting the J.N. Adam facility,” said State Sen. Catharine M. Young, R-Olean, who co-sponsored the legislation with Assemblyman Joseph Giglio, R-Gowanda. “It is derelict, a risk to public safety, costs taxpayers money and an eyesore that hampers community development.”

Perrysburg Town Supervisor Dennis Stopen agrees.

“It’s just a real safety issue,” Stopen said. “We’re just trying to get the property back on the tax roll.”

“It’s been vandalized ... to the point where the buildings are unsalvageable.”

Located 35 miles south of Buffalo, the land was donated to Buffalo by former Mayor James Noble Adam in 1910. Though the city later turned the property over to the state for operation of the developmental center, the city maintained reversionary rights to the property.

News of the planned report has been well received.

“Since nothing has happened, the fact that they are pushing to have this resolved is huge,” said David Swift, a retired forest ranger who lives nearby.

“I think it’s a positive step,” said Kuzma, who was a party in a lawsuit that blocked the sale of the property to a logging company several years ago. About 500 acres of the 650-acre site is forest.

The legislation still needs the governor’s approval. But it is expected the state study and report will include recommendations from elected officials in Perrysburg and Buffalo, and several other state agencies. Public hearings will be scheduled in Perrysburg and Buffalo.

While the deadline for the report, to be prepared by the Office of General Services and the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities, is December 2016, other activity on the property is imminent.

Two small landfills on the campus, totaling 1.6 acres, will be excavated and their contents moved to the Chautauqua County Landfill for disposal, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Environmental Conservation said.

The waste is nonhazardous, said Megan Gollwitzer, and includes cafeteria-type wastes, construction and demolition debris, and ash and coal ash from the on-site incinerator and coal-fired boilers.

That work is to be completed by late November, Gollwitzer said.

Fillmore District Council Member David Franczyk, who was president of the Buffalo Common Council when the sale was pending, never supported it.

“I want to see the state do the highest and best use, not simply selling to someone,” Franczyk said this week.

Franczyk said he thinks the buildings in the original campus should be preserved, while some extensions could come down. A wholesale removal of trees and demolition of buildings isn’t the highest and best use, he said.

“Once you chop the trees down, that’s it,” Franczyk said.