Group home makes move

Published 9:43 am Tuesday, July 7, 2009

ELIZABETH TOWNSHIP —The sign above the front door still says “Mended Reeds” but the staff and residents at the Dennis J. Boll Group and Shelter Home are quickly making themselves at home.

The group home students slept their first night in the new — new to them — facility July 1. The move-in process began a few weeks before that, after the former occupants, Mended Reeds, vacated at the end of May. Group Home Director Brett Looney said the move has been a “tremendous experience.”

“This is Lawrence County’s juvenile facility and we’re proud of it,” Looney said.

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Not only is the new facility new to the group home staff and students, it’s considerably newer than the 150-year-old building in Ironton that had housed the group home until now. Another noticeable difference between this facility and the old one is the size: at 9,500 square feet, the old building could fit nicely inside the new one with room to spare. The old Mended Reeds building is 55,000 square feet and was extensively renovated when Mended Reeds purchased it from the Rock Hill School District roughly six years ago.

“Look, we have indoor recreation,” Looney said, pointing to the gymnasium. The old group home didn’t have one of those. There’s a secure upper floor storage room Looney wants to use for medical record storage.

“We’ve never had a medical records room before, never,” he said.

Right now there are six boys and two girls in the group home occupying a small space on the second floor. There is another set of sleeping quarters on the first floor that can be used to house youth as well. But while there is room for more students and the group home does take in a few out-of-county youth to help supplement its income, Looney said he is not interested in becoming a multi-county agency taking in dozens of youth from other parts of the state.

“This is Lawrence County’s center,” he said.

Part of the upper floor that is not needed for the group home will be used to store county courthouse records. Right now some records are kept in individual offices, but most officeholders are running out of room for even those records they are required by law to keep. Some records are kept in the courthouse attic or in a storage facility that is known to be damp.

Looney stressed that the move has not cost the county a single cent: staffers and students have moved the furnishings from the city facility to the Elizabeth Township site. The taxpayer is getting a break on the purchase price, too. The county got a $508,000 grant to help foot the $850,000 cost. County officials think the rest can be achieved through savings on utilities and other expenses.

Looney said he appreciates the county commission, Mended Reeds and its director, David Lambert, and everyone else involved for making what has been a years-old dream become reality.

If the future looks bright now, Looney has plans to make it even brighter—and greener. Staffers are working now with Rumpke to create a recycling program. He wants plastic, metal, aluminum cans, paper and even kitchen compostables to be eliminated from the waste stream. Some of the recyclables could generate a small amount of money for the facility.

“We hope to do this by the beginning of this year or the beginning of 2010,” Looney said. “I’ve met with people. I’m really excited about this.”

Looney said he would also like to see the county move its alternative school to the site. After all, group home youth attend the alternative school, so from a logistical standpoint, combining similar entities under one roof makes sense.

Group home staff plan show off the new facility at an open house later this summer or early in the fall.