Center back on track as assisted living facility

Published 10:25 am Wednesday, July 8, 2009

IRONTON — The rehabilitation of the St. Lawrence O’Toole Community Center into an assisted-living facility might be revived nearly five years after developers first announced their intentions for the long-vacant, century-old building.

Since project managers revealed in December 2004 their plans to redevelop the former Catholic school at the corner of North Seventh and Center streets, news on the venture had mostly faded from the public eye. Even as late as last month, the building showed no progress of development and the project was considered by many in limbo.

However, that changed on June 25 when the Ohio Department of Development awarded the City of Ironton a $500,000 grant to assist in rehabilitating the vacant 11,910 square-foot building. In their press release, the state listed the developers as St. Lawrence O’Toole Gardens, LLC.

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One week later on July 2, the parish sold the property to St. Lawrence O’Toole Gardens, LLC. The Lawrence County Auditor’s office listed the transaction price as $51,000.

Besides purchasing and rehabilitating the school building into a 36-unit facility, the state will also allow the allocated grant monies to be used toward building an 8,316-square-foot addition, equipment purchases, sidewalk improvements and other infrastructure rehabilitation.

“Building improvements are essential in the development of businesses and facilities in our local communities,” said Lisa Patt-McDaniel, interim director of the Ohio Department of Development. “This Community Development Block Grant funding allows Ironton to have a second assisted living facility with 36 units available for area residents.”

The state said the project is estimated to create 30 jobs, 16 of which will be for people of low and moderate income.

Ironton Mayor Rich Blankenship confirmed Tuesday that the city had received the grant monies from the state and they would be loaned to the company and administered by the Ironton-Lawrence County Community Action Organization who drafted the grant application with the state.

Blankenship said he was not in a position to discuss details of the project any further.

Another party staying mum on the project was Sharon Hartwig, the co-partner of the company developing the assisted-living facility.

Reached by phone Tuesday night, Hartwig, of Ashland, Ky., declined to comment until St. Lawrence O’Toole Gardens, LLC was ready to distribute a press release and announce the project’s ceremonial groundbreaking. Hartwig added the company had obtained private funding for most of the $3.2 million it needed to complete the project.

In a follow-up phone call, Hartwig declined to elaborate any further saying “when we’re ready, we’ll let you know what we have.”

When first announcing the project nearly five years ago, Hartwig listed her partner as Charles Kunkel of Wilmington, Ohio-based Kunkel & Associates.

Applying for grant monies is not new for the parties involved with St. Lawrence O’Toole Gardens, LLC.

In 2004, the company — then listed as Management and Marketing Solutions, LLC — applied to the state for up to $300,000 in Community Development Block Grant monies. According to Eileen Turner with the Ohio Department of Development, that application was withdrawn shortly thereafter as the group wanted to examine the possible monetary advantages which could be gained by relocating into a historical structure.

St. Lawrence School was built in 1910. The former school served as home to grades 1 through 8 until the early 1980s when it ceased being used as the Catholic grade school for the Ironton Catholic community. It was then used as a community center for several years.

State records show the application by St. Lawrence O’Toole Gardens, LLC in which the $500,000 was awarded was submitted to the Department of Development in April. The limited liability company was originally registered with the state of Ohio on Aug. 30, 2004.