Moffat County School District enters negotiations with Memorial Regional Health for transfer of Yampa Building as new substance treatment center
A comprehensive addiction treatment center for people with substance abuse disorders — Providence Recovery Services of Colorado — is expected to open in Craig in about 15 months.
The Yampa Building, 775 Yampa Ave. — current home of the Moffat County School District administrative offices — is the likely location for the center after a nearly unanimous vote of the members of the Moffat County School District Board of Education.
Board Secretary Dr. Elise Sullivan abstained from voting citing a potential conflict of interest, as she is likely to directly benefit financially as a provider at PRSC. The remaining six board members tasked Superintendent David Ulrich to enter into negotiations with Memorial Regional Health for transfer of the property from the district to Moffat County under MRH management.
The decision was made Thursday, Feb. 21, after comments by three members of the public.
Complete details of the transfer are not expected to be made public while negotiations are ongoing. When the contract is finalized, it will become public, as both the school board and the county will have to agree to its terms.
Before their decision, most board of education members attended two presentations by MRH — the first at an educational dinner at the hospital in December and the second during a workshop before the Thursday meeting.
The project is expected to result in significant economic development. The initial investment is about $1 million. Once the center is in operation, another estimated $1.1 million will be invested annually to provide jobs paying an average $30 per hour to more than 20 people, said MRH Vice President of Operations Jennifer Riley.
A case for comprehensive treatment
During presentations, MRH representatives described the need for addiction recovery in the community and region, while also building a case for the use of the Yampa Building as a treatment center.
Drug overdoses were responsible for about 72,000 deaths in the United States in 2017, up 10 percent from 2016, said Amy Peck, MRH vice president of nursing and director of the school district nursing program. She said opioids accounted for about 49,000 of those deaths.
She also said the entire community was negatively impacted by limited treatment programs, especially affordable programs available to those on Medicaid living in the region.
PRSC would be “for both people who can and cannot afford it. … It allows parents to become sober here, so they can still be here for their children,” Peck said. It would include medication-assisted treatment, intensive outpatient treatment, individual and group counseling, peer recovery coaching, a sober living residence segregated by gender, and wilderness retreats.
“Through the Craig comprehensive treatment program and sober living, we will be able to provide long-term residential treatment for individuals suffering from substance abuse disorder,” Peck said.
MRH’s is an investor, not an operator in the public-private partnership. Ascension Recovery Services, headquartered in Morgantown, West Virginia, and working with partners Sunflower Management Group and Affinity Healthcare, are developing the new corporation to provide services within 15 months, as reported Jan. 22 in the Craig Press.
“The Craig CTP will function independently, but harmoniously, with other MRH programs and other regional providers,” Peck said.
After making a case for the need, Peck and Riley described why the Yampa Building is a suitable site. They provided board members with architectural drawings for primarily interior renovations, noting that the building’s historical characteristics would be preserved.
“This location is so good. … It is a quiet building, different from the hospital. Having a campus-type place like this has been most successful in other areas where treatment centers were provided,” Peck said.
The layout allows the space to be easily renovated to provide outpatient as well as residential sober-living quarters, the offices, and treatment rooms.
“We are able to make it more residential or home-like. It is also centrally located to the bus, grocery store and in walking distance for those people who cannot drive while on the program,” Riley said.
After the presentation, board members mostly expressed support.
“It is a problem this community has, and it affects every one of us,” said Chip McIntyre, board treasurer. “It is not a law enforcement problem; it is a community problem. I think the board of education should move forward and become a part of the solution.”
McIntyre’s work as commander of the All Crimes Enforcement Team affords him a front-row seat to the impacts of substance abuse on the community, as does Sullivan’s work. While she stated she would abstain from voting, she expressed her support for a program that will provide long-term, five-year treatment.
“When they do recover, it is life-changing,” she said.
Newly appointed board member Cindy Looper asked if further public input would be solicited. MRH CEO Andy Daniels said they were always available to answer questions from the community, but added he didn’t see how a public process would be helpful.
“It’s not going to change the minds of people who are against it,” he said.
Repurposing the Yampa Building
The Yampa Building, completed in 1925, and, according to documents archived at the Museum of Northwest Colorado, has served as a school, school district headquarters, an early childhood center, and a shared school.
In April 2017, the board of education began making a series of decisions aimed at closing an elementary school to address declining enrollment and recover an estimated $700,000 in costs, primarily through a reduction in salaries and benefits.
After months of public consultation, the decision was made in December 2017 to close East Elementary School for that use and integrate former East staff and grade-school students into existing schools.
During the final phases of determining how to reapportion resources, it was decided to vacate the Yampa Building and relocate all preschool and administrative support staff to the larger, former elementary school.
“I’m going to vote for it, not because I like it. I hate to move administration out of this building. I hate to close this building, but that is the sentiment. It’s not the best solution for the children. We have to educate our preschool children, and it makes more sense, economically,” said Board President JoAnn Baxter after what Ulrich called a “pivotal decision” by the board in May 2018, as reported by the Craig Press.
The Yampa Building’s sentimental value is priceless to many, but in a community riddled with empty commercial buildings and blighted residential spaces, its market value is not.
The appraisal of the building, approved by the BOE in July and initiated in August by appraiser Bob Stevens, was not made public during his final report in December. Stevens said the disclosure of his estimate of the market value would not be in the best interest of the district or the community.
At the same meeting, former Yampa Building student Mike Smith proposed an alternative vision for it — an art and cultural center — which the Northwest Colorado Arts Council showcased at Visionary Night during Art Walk in February. However, that plan lacked sufficient backing to be viable.
“We cannot transfer this building to a group unless they are tied to a governmental entity. The hospital is such a group,” Baxter said. “We had two goals: We did not want to see another empty building, and we did not want to be landlords. This has been the only viable proposal that we have had before us to go forward.”
While such a transfer keeps public ownership of the building, it might not allow for public access when a private corporation leases it from MRH
Viral public reaction
Soon after the publication of the school board’s agenda, the community began expressing concerns through social media with the Yampa Building becoming a treatment facility.
In a poll on Craig Community Chat — a Facebook group moderated by Aly McDaniel with more than 1,800 followers, not all living in Craig — more than 100 people said they thought a treatment center was needed, but that it should be located near MRH. Only 29 people said the Yampa Building would be a good location.
It was clear that MRH was aware of community concerns, as Riley addressed several of them. She started by saying the program would not create a safety concern for neighbors, including nearby schools.
“It may not be well-known, but we are already providing a significant amount of treatment at the clinic across the street. We are already taking care of these patients. To my knowledge, it hasn’t created a security issue,” she said. “We don’t believe this will bring additional drugs to our community. Our goal is to get people off drugs. It is not our belief it will be an economic blight to the community. The program should keep people employed and return them to the workforce.”
Daniels said he understands community concern. He described traveling to West Virginia to see a similar facility to understand how a treatment center is different from detox, halfway houses, and CAPS (correctional alternatives placement programs). He also said the PRSC was phase one. Phase two — a 28-day detox — “doesn’t go in this building. It is more institutional, and it goes somewhere else, such as the MRH campus.”
Despite the viral interaction on social media, only three people — Ken Wergin, John Husband, and Christopher “CJ” Skowronski — spoke before the board during public comments.
While all three acknowledged the need for substance abuse treatment, as a neighbor, Wergin also expressed his discomfort with the location. Husband and Skowronski spoke in favor of using the building as an art and cultural center.
Husband also highlighted the potential negative impact on tourism.
“This historic building has been a public use building for a long time. I’d like to see it continue to be used for the public for something other than a rehab center,” he said. “I would not like to see people driving up and down the north-south entry to Craig and see a sign saying this is our drug rehab center.”
Skowronski urged the board to take more time in its deliberations.
“Don’t make a decision in haste prior to getting as much feedback as possible from the community,” he said.
The board did not disclose how many calls and emails it may have received from residents before its decision.
“To the art council, I would ask you to continue to pursue your vision. … Keep looking for space, and don’t give up to your goal,” Sullivan said.
Before casting his vote in favor, McIntyre addressed some of the public’s concerns.
“MRH has been serving individuals in a building that a person with a slightly better throwing arm than me could hit with a rock. It’s in your backdoors and in your front yards,” he said. “We can step up and embrace that we do have a problem in this community, and be a partner in helping to resolve this issue.”
Contact Sasha Nelson at 970-875-1794 or snelson@CraigDailyPress.com.