June 22, 2012 · 9:38 AM

Lynn Cook, site operating officer at Riverview Hospital, says the closure of the 99-year-old facility is simply part of the evolution of mental health care. / DIANE STRANDBERG/THE TRI-CITY NEWS

Nearly 99 years after the historic West Lawn building opened on April 1, 1913, in an area then called Mount Coquitlam, B.C.'s only large scale psychiatric hospital, is shutting down.

In the next few weeks, about 40 patients remaining at the 88-year old Centre Lawn building at Riverview Hospital will be transfered to facilities in Vancouver and Surrey and today staff, families and well-wishers will be gathering to mark the occasion.

"I don't see it as shutting down, I see it as part of an evolutionary process," said Lynn Cook, operating manager for Riverview Hospital in an interview this week.

The special event is being held in the Henry Esson Young building, named after B.C.'s provincial secretary and minister of education who had a hand in the development of Riverview Hospital as we know it today.

This isn't the first good-by for patients, family and staff. The hospital has been transferring patients to new facilities since May, 2002, when the government committee $138 million in capital funding for facilities to replace outdated buildings at Riverview Hospital.

In addition to the hospital's funding for 808 beds, another 108 new mental health beds were added to anticipate population growth for a total 916 tertiary and specialized residential mental health beds, Cook said.

Throughout the Riverview Redevelopment Project, other health authorities have built capacity to care for individuals, from young adults to older adults with the most severe mental illness who subsequently moved to these new facilities.

Riverview Hospital grew to a peak population of 4,306 in 1956 with numerous buildings on site to house nurses, doctors, patients and other staff, as well as a fire hall, a bank and telecommunications service, a tuck shop and a recreation centre with a gym, stage and bowling alley.

Most of those building are now empty and province is conducting a heritage conservation plan (HCP) to help guide future planning and ongoing site management at Riverview.

Tree walks are still being held for the public on site. Visit www.rhcs,org