EATON — If the staff of the Preble County Board of Developmental Disabilities (PCBDD) could take its current space, place it somewhere else, and make it a little bigger and more accessible, they would.
PCBDD and Superintendent Bethany Schultz are exploring options for a safe and accessible building to meet the needs of everyone the agency serves. The board is currently looking into the possibility of building a new facility on PCBDD-owned land adjacent to the ASK Playground on Lexington Road.
“That’s the ultimate goal,” Schultz said last week. “This building that we’re in now [second floor, 200 Eaton-Lewisburg Road] was to be temporary, and that was temporary over 10 years ago, and we’re still here.”
The current facility is still functional, according to Schultz, who stressed the DD’s current landlord is always responsive and recently did a “heck of a job” on the outside of the building.
“But it’s not always accessible,” she noted, because of the elevator. “Sometimes the elevator breaks, or it holds a lower capacity than needed,” Schultz said. “Sometimes we have staff that get stuck in there and we have to call [Eaton Fire Chief Brian Smith] to come over and he brings the fire trucks out and gets my staff out of the elevator. And that’s happened on more than one occasion, so that’s what really started us focusing [on moving].
“We still need that space, but more than that. We need a community space. We need a place for not only the folks that we serve, but everybody else in the community who can come in and partner with us,” Schultz said. “They can use the community room for their meetings, for their activities. It’s also a great way to hold an event and bring people into our building. And then relationships can just form naturally with the folks that we work with and the families we serve, which we are charged to do.
“How can we be that catalyst to spur those things on?” Schultz added. “It’s hard to do here. A lot of people don’t even know we’re here,” she said of the second-floor location.
Schultz said when she first started at PCBDD, she told the previous director, “What a great dream it would be to be able to put our office over there at the playground, because it’s right there and you’ve got the track. You’re going to see the park and can maintain that park. But that was six years ago.”
So, they began exploring, according to Schultz. The first building PCBDD explored was the former Art Center building on Hillcrest Drive. “We did a lot of talking, a lot of planning, working, figuring out finances, and put in an offer and unfortunately ours wasn’t accepted,” she added.
Based on Ohio Revised Code, “We can own a building, but we can’t purchase a building,” Schultz. “So, the commissioners would have to purchase on our behalf. And then deed it back over to us.”
“So that was the purpose for bringing in the commissioners, why we went to them first,” she said. “To say, we need to look at new space, this is not really conducive to our needs, people don’t really know we’re here, we want to be more out in the community, more community-minded — those kinds of things. That started that conversation.”
Although PCBDD cannot purchase a building without going through the county commissioners, by law, they are permitted to build their own facility on land the agency already owns.
PCBDD also looked at the old Midway Restaurant building in Lewisburg, according to Schultz, who said it was a huge building. “It was just too big,” she said, also noting a preference of remaining in the county seat.
The next steps took them to researching the possibility of constructing a new facility at the playground property, according to Schultz.
A visit and review of the former Wayne Industries facility in Darke County led to a meeting with Mote & Associates, who was the architect on the project, and soon they were taking recommendations for building types and getting quotes from various contractors. A first price quote gave her “sticker shock,” Schultz said, coming in at $1.7 million, worst case, with all possible contingencies. They are now looking at ways to cut the cost down, from scaling back some plans to building in phases.
“I feel like we go forward, and then we have to go to the drawing board and revamp, and that’s what we do, but we’re not giving up. We know there’s a plan and a purpose,” Shultz said.
“We’re building a building, what do we need to do? We just started talking to people. And what was amazing, there are so many community members that want to help us,” she said.
PCBDD has applied with the City of Eaton for having the property rezoned to commercial and has gotten quotes from Mote & Associates for the construction project.
Now, they will begin pursuing grants and other funding. This includes funding carried over the sale of PCBDD’s former location, on the corner of Lexington and Maple Street in Eaton, which was sold after the privatization of L&M Products in 2014. L&M purchased its own facility, leaving the PCBDD with the building. “It was too much for 14 team members to be housed in there,” Schultz said of that location, also noting the maintenance and upkeep was not feasible.
“I want to be clear that the board has made no final decision on what we’re doing, that we are standing, for lack of better words, we’re standing on our own two feet,” Shultz said of any future construction. “We’re not expecting anybody to come in and build this building for us. We’re not depending upon any entities to come in and do that. We would like to do it with partnerships, grants — if somebody would like to help us fundraise, or someone would like to sponsor the community room — we want to do that in partnership, and really just continue to build Preble County, in a positive way.
“At the bare minimum, we will get restrooms at the park,” Schultz said. The agency would like to have an actual ground-breaking for a new office building in spring of 2022.
“I think having a spot where our folks, and anybody else in the community, would like to come in and join in, is vital,” Schultz said. “So that natural ability to form relationships with others that they don’t ride with on the bus all day long, or sit in another room with, can prosper. And that’s golden because it’s their community too. I feel very passionate about that.”
Reach Eddie Mowen Jr. at 937-683-4061 and follow on Twitter @emowenjr