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Submitted photo Perham High School psychology students learned the history of psych wards in the state of Minnesota during a visit to the Otter Tail County Historical Society and the old state hospital in Fergus Falls.

PHS psychology students visit the Kirkbride

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On Dec. 4, Perham High School psychology students from Robb Moser and Shelley Bunkowske's classes traveled to Fergus Falls to learn more about the history of mental health in our region.

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The students' first stop was the Otter Tail County Historical Society. Museum Director Chris Schuelke presented the history of the state hospital, sharing stories of its leadership as well as some theories, experiments and background on the evolving use of the facilities.

Students participated in an activity using the Fergus Falls State Hospital Exhibit, which was on display at the Otter Tail County History Museum through Dec. 10. They heard a presentation on how to use the archives and academic research library at the museum.

After the museum visit, students had a two-hour tour of the facility that was once the state hospital, now called Kirkbride. The tour was conducted by "Friends of the Kirkbride," Maxine and Gene Schmidt, and Chris Schuelke.

Students learned that the future of Kirkbride and its grounds are in jeopardy of being demolished in the near future. The site's fate is in the hands of the City of Fergus Falls. Numerous developers are interested in restoration of the facility, however the cost and efficiency of restoration must be weighed against the financial commitment of the city.

The building opened in 1906 as the third mental hospital in Minnesota. In 1985, it became the Fergus Falls Regional Treatment Center, which operated until 2005. The building closed its doors when it was sold to the city in 2007.

After the tour, students said their perspectives of the Kirkbride facility had changed from that of a gigantic brick building to a structure of history and importance.

As one student commented, "What can we do to save this historical building and the grounds? This is important."

Students attending the tour appreciated the historical meaning of the Kirkbride to our region, as well as the study of mental health it represented.

The field trip was made possible through a state legacy grant written by Bunkowske through the Minnesota Historical Society.

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