Move quickly, responsibly to repurpose former YDC
Now that the Ohio General Assembly has demonstrated the eminently good sense in preserving a perk for the Mahoning Valley in its $65 billion 2018-19 state budget, it now falls on local leaders to maximize the benefits and impact of that perk.
That benefit, wisely added to the state spending blueprint by State Sen. Joe Schiavoni of Boardman, D-33rd, came in the form of a transfer in ownership of the 36-acre property in Austintown that until last month stood as the state-operated Youngstown Developmental Center to the Mahoning County Mental Health and Recovery Board. The state-mandated final shutdown of the center that treated developmentally disabled individuals took place June 30.
From our vantage point and that of social-service agency leaders, the property wields massive potential to assist vulnerable populations throughout the Valley. That’s why there is no time to waste toward pinpointing, planning and implementing the most valuable uses for the greatest number of people for the former YDC campus. That expansive gift from the state includes thousands of square feet of office space, residential buildings, a gymnasium and an industrial-sized kitchen among other amenities.
Leading the campaign of transformation is Duane Piccirilli, executive director of the Mahoning County mental health board, and officials of the privately-run Meridian HealthCare.
Meridian, a well-respected comprehensive drug-addiction treatment center, is expected to act as property manager for the yet unnamed social-service campus that straddles the Austintown-Mineral Ridge border.
Larry Moliterno, Meridian president and CEO, said the goal is to have several social-service organizations sharing the facility. “We’ve never had anything in the Valley like that,” he said. “It’s pretty unique.”
Yes, and the possibilities are seemingly endless. Among ideas bandied about so far include using housing units for independent living for those in the later stages of recovery, adults with developmental disabilities or assisted living for senior citizens. A hodgepodge of nonprofits could populate office space. An industrial kitchen could be used to serve Head Start programs in the Valley, and the gym could be used for recreation and social events for the disabled and other targeted groups.
Now that potential tenants are being courted to achieve those or other ends, the board and Meridian should keep foremost in mind pledges made during the drive to win legislative approval for the property swap.
Prime among them was the plan to gather maximum public input on what shape the campus should take. That would include recommendations from those who need and provide services as well as residents who live near the former YDC. Already, they’ve received a promise that no detoxification programming will take place there and that the social-services complex will serve as a “good neighbor.”
The sooner such public meetings take place, the sooner more concrete plans can take shape and a time line for the property’s repurposing, opening and operational financing can take place. Leaders also have pledged to spend not one red penny of local taxpayer dollars on the project. That’s a pledge they must equally respect.
Responsibility should guide every step of the way for the valuable project. Its centralized Valley location, its promise of one-stop social-service shopping and its insurance that the former YDC will not morph into a public eyesore all should energize the project into high gear.