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Milwaukie residents shape former state hospital grounds

Clackamas County leaders this month unveiled Piazza Park at Villebois with a dedication ceremony under sunny skies.

by: SPOKESMAN PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Bocce courts, shown being used by Costa Pacific CEO Rudy Kadlub, are a part of the European-flavored Piazza Park at Villebois, which was dedicated last week with a ceremony honoring the former Dammasch State Hospital.The piazza is a public gathering space at the heart of Villebois, the award-winning planned development built on the former Dammasch property. It features a European-style fountain, cobblestone gathering space, bocce ball courts and plenty of benches. It also pays tribute to the legacy of Dammasch State Hospital, open to treat persons with mental illnesses from 1961 until 1995, in the form of a commemorative bronze plaque.

Led by Costa Pacific CEO Rudy Kadlub, head of the development team responsible for helping transform the Dammasch site into Villebois, the Oct. 3 event was much less about the public square and its European-inspired comfort than it was about the land underneath and the people who lived there long before Villebois was conceived.

Monies from the sale of the hospital property created the Mental Health Housing Trust Fund, championed by National Association on Mental Illness members Harold Kulm and Richard Reilly and Oregon legislators Rep. Jane Lokan and Rep. Jerry Krummel. Kulm and Lokan are Milwaukie residents.

Planning of Villebois started in 2002, Kadlub said, with a focus on the then-unique tenets of connectivity, diversity and sustainability. Inspired by Orenco Station in Hillsboro and other Smart Growth development, Villebois was designed from the outset to combine small business with housing ranging from apartments to estate-sized single-family homes. But that’s not all.

It’s the second of those ideals, diversity, which continues to distinguish Villebois from other developments to the present day.

“We use those terms in the broadest sense that you can imagine,” Kadlub said. “And one of the diverse things we were asked to do, and ultimately embraced, was to integrate housing for people who may have been displaced by the closing of the hospital, or others who suffered from addictions or mental illnesses, to integrate housing for those people into a brand new community. I didn’t know anything about that at the time, and I was nervous about it as one might guess.”

by: SPOKESMAN PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Piazza Park at Villebois features a fountain, cobblestoned pavement and a host of benches for people to relax. Thanks to a special trust fund set aside by the state Legislature to use the proceeds of the sale of the Dammasch property to private developers for mental health housing, there was money to ultimately fund five residential facilities in Villebois that house people with various types of mental illness.

“It’s really difficult for you to pick out (the five residential facilities), they certainly don’t look institutional,” said Kadlub. “They look like every other home or apartment in this community, and it’s wonderful to see how the homeowners and apartment dwellers have embraced their neighbors here.”

by: SPOKESMAN PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Costa Pacific CEO Rudy Kadlub helped plan and begin development at Villebois more than a decade ago. Last week he helped dedicate a new public square called Piazza Park at Villebois.A number of people who have benefited from the residential housing made possible by the Mental Health Housing Trust Fund attended, as well as one former Dammasch resident.

“The good thing that came out of it, one is the housing trust fund, the other thing is that we made a commitment as a state agency not to put someone out of the hospital unless there was a place for them,” former director of the state Department of Addictions and Mental Health Bob Nikkel told the assembled crowd. “We started off with about 200 people when we closed this hospital — there were 350 beds there — and we have 2,000 such placements around the state. No one’s ever heard of them because they work, and that’s often the truth of mental health care. The results here speak for themselves.”




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