NORRISTOWN — The latest use variance request from Vision Quest of Downingtown to use Building 12 at Norristown State Hospital for a youth crisis diagnostic service for 12- to 18-year-olds, details how rooms in the three-story brick building would be used.
The architectural plans by David Black Associates in Chambersburg show a cafeteria, commercial kitchen, laundry facility and storage spaces in the 27,992-square-foot basement.
The first floor includes 14 bedrooms, four solariums, two dayrooms, two classrooms and two computer labs. The largest bedrooms measure 20 by 26 feet and are divided into four smaller areas by room dividers.
The second floor includes 12 bedrooms, four solariums, six administration offices, two dayrooms, two classrooms and one computer lab.
A packet of about 20 color photos submitted with the use variance application details the outside of the red-brick “U”-shaped building.
A 12-foot high cyclone fence, with a four-foot inward, inclined extension on top, closes off the grassy interior courtyard from the rest of the Norristown State Hospital campus.
The “former 24-hour psychiatric facility” would be equipped with “delayed egress locks” at all outside doors to prevent unauthorized entry and exit, the zoning application said. Any opening of the doors would start an “audible signal” (alarm).
Only a loss of electric power, a fire or an electric signal from each dayroom can disable the lock system, the application said.
Vision Quest and the state Department of General Services, which operates state facilities for the state Department of Public Welfare, have jointly applied for the use variance.
The use variance argued the “use is a permitted use pursuant to Section 320-81A(7) of the Norristown zoning ordinance, to the extent relief is deemed to be required.”
“Applicant seeks requested relief and any and all other relief as may be necessary to operate facility,” the application said, for an “institution for the short-term care of minor children in a custodial healthcare facility.”
The state hospital property, located at Sterigere and Stanbridge streets, has limited uses in several buildings for psychiatric care, the criminally insane and homeless services. Many buildings with broken windows and a dilapidated appearance on the grounds are posted with “Danger — No Entrance” signs.
The Norristown Zoning Hearing Board will hold a hearing on Vision Quest’s request for a use variance at 7 p.m., Jan. 27, at the municipal hall.
The Norristown State Hospital Board of Trustees issued a press release Thursday that said it understands and respects the community’s concerns regarding Vision Quest’s zoning application.
The board members said their responsibility is to advise, assist and make recommendations to the CEO of the hospital on management and operations questions.
They also expressed commitment to quality care for those who live at Norristown State Hospital.
State Rep. Mike Vereb, R- Dist. 150, and State Rep. Matthew Bradford, D-Dist. 70, have publicly opposed the Vision Quest proposal along with a majority of Norristown council.
Residents living in the neighborhood around the hospital have also expressed strong opposition.
“It’s bad news for Norristown,” said Norristown resident Gina Bottone in December. “It’s a black mark on the better reputation that Norristown is trying to build for itself. I don’t think Norristown should have to babysit Philadelphia’s problem children.”
In a Nov. 26, 2008 letter to Norristown Zoning Officer Jayne Musonye, the director of the Bureau of Real Estate for the state General Services department had asserted the department’s right to use the building.
“The intended use is clearly a permitted use and also a necessary function that is critical to the delivery of services required by the (state Department of Public Welfare) DPW,” wrote Joanne Phillips, the real estate director. “The Department of General Services is advising Vision Quest that they have fully complied with their lease agreement with the Commonwealth and we are authorizing Vision Quest to initiate occupancy of Building 12 at Norristown State Hospital.”
That letter prompted Norristown officials to get a state court order late last year, which forced Vision Quest to apply for a use variance.
Carl Rotenberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 610-272-2500, ext. 350.