American multinational banking and financial services holding company JPMorgan Chase hopes to purchase 60 acres at the former Rockland Psychiatric Center to build a 150,000 sq ft data center.

In the proposed deal with Orangetown, New York, the bank would be responsible for the cleanup and demolition of around 40 existing abandoned buildings.

A building at the Rockland Psychiatric Center campus
A building at the Rockland Psychiatric Center campus – Google Maps

Asylum seekers

While the price of the land is still up for negotiation, local publication The Journal News reports that the bank has offered $7.5 million.

The Orangetown Town Board is expected to be the lead agency on the proposal. It could launch the necessary environmental review processes and create a new zone for the data center. 

The facility is expected to create up to 50 jobs, as well as temporary construction and environmental cleaning work.

A public hearing on the project is set for March 14 at 8 pm, but the time may be set to change.

Orangetown Supervisor Andy Stewart told The Journal News that JPMorgan Chase approached the town weeks ago, saying that the project “hinged in part on the town providing a pathway to approval by the end of June.”

The town gave the company a timeline that showed the steps to receive a final site plan approval by the Planning Board on June 14.

Should the facility go ahead, it joins two other data centers in Orangetown - a $710m Bloomberg facility, and a recently upgraded data center from fifteenfortyseven.

Rockland’s rocky history

Opened in 1927 as the Rockland State Hospital with 5,768 beds, the home for those deemed mentally ill grew quickly, as it attempted to cure patients with then-state of the art techniques like lobotomies, electroshock therapy and hydrotherapy.

The 600 acre campus included a power plant, a farm, a bowling alley and industrial shops staffed by patients who manufactured mattresses, brooms and furniture. By 1959 Rockland cared for some 7,000 residents with a staff of 2,000. 

But by the 1970s, numbers began to decline as new psychotropic drugs and vocational training made the process of deinstitutionalization possible. Those previously seen as unable to live within society could, with the right medication.

‘’Rockland represents in microcosm the history of the treatment of the mentally ill in this country,’’ Professor Roger Panetta told The New York Times. ‘’The hospital changed from a huge institution to one with a dwindling population under deinstitutionalization to a core center that today operates mainly as an outpatient facility.’’

A 410-bed inpatient center still exists, but most of the land and buildings fell into disrepair as patients left, a process that accelerated after the center was implicated in a negligent death in 1988. Incredible images of the abandoned asylum can be seen here and here.

In 2002 Orangetown bought 348 acres of the property from the state, including 57 buildings and the nine-hole Broadacres Golf Course, for $7 million.

It has since sought to gain value from the land, with parts of it used for soccer and Little League fields. The NYC Football Club is building a training facility on a 17-acre site, and Netflix is using it as a set location for Orange is the New Black.

The hospital also has literary credentials: it is named in Howl, the epic by 50s Beat poet Alan Ginsberg. The line “I’m with you in Rockland,” is believed to be a reference to his mother’s frequent admittances to psychiatric hospitals.