Sunday, March 9, 2014
By KEITH EDWARDS Kennebec Journal
AUGUSTA — Capitol Police are seeking a couple spotted on security cameras in tunnels under the old Augusta Mental Health Institute main building.
The two young adults triggered an alarm in the vacant former state mental health hospital on Hospital Street Saturday afternoon, but were gone before police arrived.
An investigation is ongoing and the two, a man and a woman, may face trespassing charges and, possibly more, according to Capitol Police Chief Russell Gauvin.
Gauvin said police take people entering the historic Stone Building and the tunnels below it seriously.
“People are not welcome in there. It’s not safe,” he said.
A system of tunnels runs under the old AMHI buildings at what is now a state office complex, next to Riverview Psychiatric Center, on the east side of the Kennebec River.
Gauvin said the tunnels are maintained to provide access to underground utilities and contain asbestos and other hazards and are not safe for the public to enter.
He said the former AMHI builidings are popular targets for “ghost hunters” and the state occasionally gets requests — that it rejects — from people who want to enter the buildings.
He said the couple had a tripod and camera with them, and it did not appear they had entered the tunnel with the intent of stealing anything.
Last April, five people — four adults and a child — were caught on the third floor of the Stone Building, and said they were conducting research for a history-related project. The four adults were summoned for criminal trespass, a misdemeanor.
The group’s presence in the building set off an intrusion alarm.
Gauvin noted other vacant buildings in the privately owned Kennebec Arsenal complex adjacent to the state campus have been entered in recent years and thieves have caused extensive damage in those sites by ripping out copper pipe and wiring.
The state is trying to preserve the old AMHI building, which is actually multiple connected buildings, and is on the National Register of Historic Places. Authorities don’t want it to fall victim to vandals and thieves as some of the nearby Kennebec Arsenal buildings have.
“That’s what we’re worried about happening here,” Gauvin said. “We’re trying to preserve them.”
Gauvin said the couple got into a tunnel by prying a piece of wood off to get through a door. The door has since been made secure, he said.
Keith Edwards — 621-5647