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(WBIR-Knoxville) A piece of Knoxville's history is changing.

The city plans to demolish several buildings at the former Lakeshore Mental Health Institute in West Knoxville to help transform one of its biggest parks.

Before the buildings come down, former employees held a last reunion. They gathered for a picnic Saturday on the former hospital grounds.

"I never thought the place would close. I really didn't," said Homer McFarland.

McFarland worked at Lakeshore for more than 40 years; for 16 of those years, he spent as a psychiatric technician.

"I was one of the last people left," he said.

The facility closed in 2012, after serving East Tennessee for more than a century. Last year, the state handed over control of the park to Knoxville.

"There's so many memories in the buildings with the staff and the patients that it'll be strange coming by here and all of it being gone," said Erin Miller, who worked here for six years. She's now a stay-at-home mom.

"It breaks my heart to see them go but I understand the reasoning," said Alice Littleton, who worked at the psychiatric hospital for 35 years.

Littleton started as a psychiatric technician, and held several different roles while working at Lakeshore.

"We've stuck together, even after the closing of the hospital," she said.

Littleton helped plan the reunion. Some of the former employees meet every month.

"I guess I became addicted to it because I wasn't planning on staying when I started. But I loved it. I felt like it was a good thing, helping people," McFarland said.

The city is planning to preserve some of the buildings, including the chapel and administration building.

Starting July 1, the city's FY 2014-2015 budget begins. It includes $2 million toward utility improvements to the park.

According to City of Knoxville Communications Manager Eric Vreeland, the city is a couple months into construction.

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