Hopewell Health Centers’ plans for an $8 million health facility in The Plains are now in the hands of the Athens Township Zoning Commission.
“We are planning to build a new facility for child and adolescent health,” said Mark Bridenbaugh, Hopewell’s chief executive officer. “We're building in the field behind the old school buildings.”
The building — to be called the Appalachian Family Life Center — will be approximately 35,000 square feet and will house services already being provided at several locations around Athens, including child and adolescent behavioral health, early childhood and WIC, according to Bridenbaugh.
“Our current timeline is aiming towards putting the project out for bid shortly after the first of the year,” added Bridenbaugh.
But first Hopewell must get a zoning change, which was requested of the Zoning Commission on November 10. Previously, the Athens County Regional Planning Commission gave its blessing.
The request is for a change from open space to business. Drawings were submitted by RVC Architects on behalf of Hopewell.
The drawings show a new one-story building fronting on South Clinton Street. The main access from The Plains Road would be via East 2nd Street, with parking in the front and rear of the building.
According to the plans, the existing school/office (Central Office) building and the existing auditorium are to “remain for future use.”
“Unfortunately, they've become the target of some recent vandalism and we've had to take some measures to secure those buildings,” Bridenbaugh said. “Demolition could certainly be an option down the road, but even that would come at additional cost. So, I think the plan is to leave them in place until we have time to better evaluate our options…”
Warren Jeffers hopes the former high school building and gymnasium don’t have to be torn down. Jeffers is a resident of The Plains and a member of the Regional Planning Commission.
“Any repurposed reuse would be appreciated by the alumni of those buildings and community members,” said Jeffers. “A multi-use facility that could have dual use for Hopewell and community possibilities for the old gymnasium would be a plus. If either building could be converted into condos, like what Nelsonville did with their old school buildings, that would be another positive.”
The Zoning Commission has scheduled a public hearing on the zoning question on December 8 at 5 p.m. The next step would be for the commission to make a recommendation on the proposed change and then send that to the Athens Township Trustees for action.
Zoning Commission member (and The Plains resident) Brian Dearing is curious to hear what his neighbors will have to say.
“My concern mainly centers around once you rezone that property from open space to business usage, it is forever rezoned.” Dearing explained. “The public voted the code in with that property being open space.”
As far as the health facility project is concerned, Dearing thanked Hopewell for taking public benefit into consideration.
“They did take into account a letter I wrote to their CEO two years ago and included a playground, basketball court, walking path, community gardens, and trees,” Dearing said. "I was happy Mr. Bridenbaugh said Hopewell was considering building facilities for recreational therapy which the public would be able to access after business hours. It seems like a win for the community as that part of The Plains does not have a playground."
Hopewell purchased the property in an auction last year from the Athens City School District for $310,000. It was the highest of three bidders.
“I have seen the basic plan for Hopewell’s use of the property and am very excited about the possibility of Hopewell having a youth healthcare facility in The Plains,” said school Superintendent Tom Gibbs. “Hopewell has partnered with the Athens City School District for several years to provide mental health care support and services for students and families on location at our buildings.”
Gibbs also said, “In addition to the improvements to healthcare for children and families, the new facility would provide much needed jobs in both support positions and professional positions that would be necessary to operate the facility. Overall, I’m excited about the plan and am hopeful the community will support the project.”
Jeffers, too, had good things to say about the project. “(The) facility will make a positive impression in the community, bringing with it new jobs, an impressive campus that includes spaces for the community to have garden spaces and is landscaped to enhance the formerly bare landscape.”