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State aid sought for Valley’s planned social-service campus

AUSTINTOWN – Even though the former Youngstown Developmental Center has been vacant for two years, the state is investing money in maintaining the grounds.

“If it breaks, we fix it,” said Randall Kisner, facilities project manager at the Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities.

The state owns the complex – for now. But the Mahoning County Mental Health and Recovery Board is expected to buy it for $1. If the board does, it likely will be managed by the Western Reserve Port Authority, said Sarah Lown, public finance manager for the port.

The port will manage leases for several service providers in Trumbull and Mahoning counties, and use the space to expand programs for people with autism, young adults who need the skills to live on their own, older adults who need more care and others with mental health and developmental needs.

COMPASS Family and Community Services, Alta Behavioral Health, Easterseals, Meridian Healthcare and Homes for Kids are some of the nonprofits hoping to use space there.

While local officials wait to hear if the state will invest $1.5 million for capital improvements so the nonprofits can afford to move in and invest their funds in new staff and furnishing, Kinser, a Niles native living in Columbus, uses skills he learned in the U.S. Air Force to ensure the property retains its value.

The campus is laid out in a loop just off County Line Road. In addition to the largest building — formerly the central training facility — there is a service building with a commercial kitchen, an administrative building with a clinic, and several residential buildings with kitchens, rooms, dining rooms and office spaces. The campus is dotted with gazebos and walking trails.

Though weeds are growing in the cracks of sidewalks and the road, Kinser has a maintenance plan for the campus and as he walked with Lown around the buildings Thursday; he fixed smoke detectors, checked thermostats and coordinated contractors coming to work on other items.

But Kinser and his department isn’t worrying just about the little things.

A $1.1 million project to fix the underground power system and lines was just completed using 30,000 feet of new cable, which should be in shape for the next 50 years, Kinser said.

“There are probably $5 million in buried assets underground,” Lown said, including things like plumbing.

Kinser comes up twice a month to check on the campus, or more often if the nighttime security guards notice a problem. He keeps the fire inspections up to date and makes sure the mild cases of vandalism don’t leave any lasting effects. None of the vandalism has been too bad — some kids rode a skateboard around the large training center building, but damaged nothing, and some kids sprayed a fire extinguisher, he said.

The fire suppression system is being repaired, and some flooding issues have been remedied.

If the state comes through with money, Lown said the road would be improved and the buildings would be put on separate utility meters so the leasees could pay their own bills, Lown said.

Kinser said the state facility that closed in Montgomery County at the same time at the YDC has been transferred to a county board there. It is being used to shelter women, Kinser said.

The environment of these facilities is more comfortable for people who need the type of services one might find at one of these centers, Kinser said. It isn’t in the middle of a city and fosters a more relaxing setting, he said.

There will be services at the center, including a greenhouse, that will give people with developmental needs a chance to get out of their homes and do a social activity with peoplewith whom they are comfortable, Lown said.

“It can make their lives more meaningful and enjoyable,” Lown said.

rfox@tribtoday.com