EATON — Two approved zoning cases will see major changes to Preble County mainstays in the hopes of modernizing and adding safety structures for two much-loved organizations.
The two cases came before the Preble County Board of Commissions on Wednesday, Jan. 3 — one for renovations to PVM Camp & Conference Center and another to build a tornado shelter for the Boy Scouts of America.
First, Case 1444 came before the commissioners. PVM Camp & Conference Center, located at 1191 Swann Beatty Rd. in Camden, submitted an application for final plan development approval to allow construction of a new 7,125 square-foot fully-accessible retreat center, which will provide lodging and meeting space for retreat groups on approximately 83 acres. No rezoning was required as the land is currently zoned Planned Retreat District.
Chris Romano spoke on the issue.
“I’m here for two purposes. First, to express gratitude to the county for a fantastic year. Last year was a banner year for us. We achieved our entire objective for the year — it was the best year we’ve had since we’ve owned the camp. We came into ownership of the property by happenstance and we didn’t know much about owning a campground. Had we a chance to do it again, we might do it a little differently, but we find ourselves in a really good situation right now,” he said.
“The other reason I’m here is to seek approval for a new building that will be used to serve a special population. What we’ve identified over the last two years is that there is a group of kids and adults who have not had the opportunity to experience camp, because of the physical, cognitive, or emotional disabilities that make it really difficult for them to get outside and enjoy the outdoors.
“Primarily those difficulties are encountered in the use of facilities. Mobility issues like the use of wheelchairs and walkers and canes make it very difficult to utilize most of the buildings. Our property is fairly old and has been in continuous use since the 1940s. The buildings there have been in use for more than 25 years — so the ADA requirements are totally different today than they were then.
“Constructing this building will enable us to serve those folks who have disabilities.”
Romano added, this building will allow them to do everything they need to — eat, sleep, meet, etc. — in one building, instead of over several. He presented Phase I to the commissioners, explaining the entire building will be improved, but it will have to happen over multiple phases. This new building will have the capability to fit 72 people and have meeting space for the same amount of people.
There will also be accessible indoor bathrooms, which Romano said is new for the facility. He allowed that only bathrooms on the first floor are truly accessible, but those will be larger than bathrooms on other floors and will allow for more people. There will even be special bunk beds with extra-large bottom bunks to make it easier to access for those will additional needs.
“One of the things I want to point out is that we’re trying to bring all of the facilities on our property up to speed. We have around 75 beds in varying facilities that are in that more primitive stage, sort of the opposite of what we talked about before. They share bathrooms in different buildings — some don’t even have heat. That might have worked well in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, but it is not very well suited for how people like to have the sort of retreats that we’re holding,” Romano said.
“As we bring this building on, we’re going to actually be replacing some of those older sleeping accommodations. We have something called teepees that are out in the back half of the property and that is about as primitive as it gets. If it rains when you’re staying with us, you get to enjoy the rain if you are sleeping in the teepees. They will be the first to go. They will disappear as soon as we finish building this building.
“After that, we have about 50 beds inside some buses in the back property and they will be the next to go. Ultimately as we expand, that will enable us to replace all of the teepees and most of the buses, allowing us to branch into the 21st century. Which is really what we need to do.”
He further explained, what he was presenting was a final approval to their master plan and there really was no zoning issue. The current plan is to begin the construction in mid-summer of 2018. While they will be breaking ground mid-summer, construction will really ramp up in September of 2018.
Commissioner Denise Robertson suggested that, instead of throwing away the teepees, he allow people to come get them for free. Romano said he would allow people to come pick them up.
“There is nothing better than seeing small businesses grow and we appreciate your commitment. I think you’re adding a great service and a great value,” Commissioner Rodney Creech commented. “This is exciting to see.”
Next, Case 1447 came before the commissioners for approval. Miami Valley Area Council Boy Scouts of America submitted an application for final plan development approval to allow for construction of a new 2496 square foot tornado shelter, which will provide safe shelter during inclement weather for retreat groups on approximately 152.348 acres located at 157 Gasper Somers Rd. in Camden, as part of the Woodland Trails Boy Scout Camp. No rezoning is required as the land is currently zoned Planned Retreat District.
Mike Henderson with Mote & Associates spoke on this issue.
“We were very fortunate to get a FEMA grant that will pay for 87.5 percent of the cost for our FEMA shelter. I know they are expensive — they are basically bunkers. Our shelter will be in the middle of camp, by the main parking lot and it is near the swimming pool,” Henderson said.
“Several years back there was a tornado that hit a Boy Scout Camp out in Ohio. I believe folks were killed an injured in that. We have a tornado siren, but when it goes off we don’t have anywhere to go. We really didn’t have a good place for people to go to for safety. We went ahead and applied.
“This will have to meet certain standards and we did have to file to the building department. We had a review finalizing all the details for that. Our goal is to have it constructed sometime this year. We have several partners we’re working with. We are excited about that. The shelter is going to be built within a ten minute maximum walk to where the camp sites are.
“This is long overdue for safety purposes and we’re excited about its construction.”
Both zoning cases were approved and will take effect in 30 days, allowing time for appeal or rebuttal from residents.
Reach Kelsey Kimbler at 937-683-4061 or on Twitter @KKimbler_RH