Boardman hotel to become center for autism

BOARDMAN — “Our plan is to renovate the space and turn it into a state-of-the-art autism center,” said Dr. Julie Knapp, executive director of the Knapp Center for Childhood Development, of her vision for the former Red Roof Inn property on Tiffany South.

A company affiliated with the center, Pennsylvania-based J2D2 Enterprises Inc., purchased the 50,000-square-foot hotel for $5.2 million, and the plan, according to Knapp, is to expand the center’s services and consolidate them under one roof.

The timeline is to be open this fall, said Knapp, who’s now selecting architects and engineers for the former hotel’s renovation. A general contractor already is on board.


Exterior and interior work is planned, including all new windows and a new external look. On the inside, work is planned to transform the individual rooms into large spaces “to form one large classroom or to form a gym, to form a cafeteria, that sort of thing,” Knapp said.

“Making a library for the children inside, some play spaces inside, (we’re) looking to have an outside play area … looking to add a lot of technology, so everything is a badge to be swiped into and out of the building, but also on every floor to have that increased protection for our kiddos.”

New paint and flooring also is in the mix, as is reaching out to local art students to paint murals, Knapp said.

The planned investment is about $1 million.

J2D2 Enterprises bought the building from Boardman Hospitality LLC, which acquired the property in August 2018 for $2.2 million, according to the Mahoning County Auditor’s Office.

Red Roof Inn, which opened in August 1997, closed April 14, according a statement from Red Roof corporate. It was operated by a franchisee who owns several other Red Roof properties, mostly in Michigan.

About 38,000 square feet of the building can be used for therapy space, Knapp said. The building’s property fitness report shows it was well-kept, that “everything is in good to excellent condition,” and that its systems, such as the sprinkler system, are up to date.

“Everything in the building is operating properly as it should,” Knapp said. “We’re simply coming in and renovating it to meet the needs with our kids with autism.”

The Knapp Center for Childhood Development, an accredited behavioral health center of excellence, opened in October 2010. It is operating in two buildings on Windham Court in Boardman that give the center about 13,000 square feet of space.


“I have turned every nook and cranny that I could find at this building into a therapy space,” said Knapp, a pediatric neuropsychologist, board-certified behavior analyst and certified Ohio behavior analyst. “We no longer have a conference room, we’re doubled up in offices, there are lines to get into the bathroom. We are just at capacity.”

The second nearby building helps, but the center’s services need combined in one space, Knapp said.

“When you have a child with autism that is non-verbal and maybe having a behavioral episode, we need to have our response team immediately get to that situation and quickly de-escalate it and make sure that the child and staff are safe,” Knapp said, adding having to come from another site and cross the street is not conducive.

Knapp said a yearslong search for a new site turned up nothing, so she pivoted her thinking and started to look at hotels — they are large enough to accommodate growth and provide enough bathrooms to toilet train patients.

Discussions with the Red Roof operator started around February / March 2021.


Knapp Center’s sister company, Absolute Behavior Health Care, will provide diagnostic, counseling, and speech and occupational therapy services.

“We currently provide diagnostics and counseling, but we are going to expand both of those programs because we have about a six- to seven-month wait list for diagnostics, and that doesn’t sit well with me,” Knapp said. “When a mom of a 2-year-old child calls up and says my pediatrician told me to call you because my baby isn’t talking, I’m not going to tell that mom you need to wait seven months because I can figure it out. That baby doesn’t have seven months to wait, that baby needs … services immediately.”

New are occupational and speech therapy — services families have been seeking, Knapp said.

Knapp Center employs about 125 people now. With the expansion, the center is looking to bring on 75 to 100 more people, from counselors and maintenance to therapists, supervisors and office workers.

The move, she said, should lessen the wait list for diagnostic and treatment services.

“Honestly, I don’t sleep well at night knowing that we have the skills to help, but we don’t have the space to do it,” Knapp said. “This is a small step in the right director to conquer the wait-list problem.”


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