By Linda Lipp
The Allen County Board of Commissioners may be a couple weeks away from reaching an agreement to craft a master plan for redeveloping the 100 acres or more it owns at Lima and Carroll roads.
The property includes the nonprofit Byron Health Center, which leases its facility from the county.
Byron recently announced it is exploring the purchase of the former YWCA campus at 2000 N. Wells St. The potential move of its operation to a new site is a part of that – but, in any case, the commissioners have been discussing a sale for months.
“We want to move that property. We don’t want to be in the business of development,” Commissioner Nelson Peters said.
The property that includes Byron is on the north side of Carroll Road; the county owns 50 acres south of Carroll that might be sold for redevelopment as well.
The county property is in a high-profile location and is located in a part of the city that is growing rapidly. Peters envisions it becoming a mixed used development. The commissioners have been getting “nibbles and bites” from potential buyers, but want to develop a plan before entertaining any specific suggestions.
“If we allow one thing to happen, then we would have to build around that,” Peters said. “We’d rather have a full plan.”
The 25-acre campus Byron is eyeing is owned by Virginia-based Schoolhouse Finance and is currently home to Horizon Christian Academy. School officials could not be reached by phone, but responded to a query about the school’s future through Facebook.
“We’ve talked to the potential new owners and agree that it would be a win-win for both parties for Horizon to remain on that campus,” Superintendent Tammy Henline wrote.
It has been more than a decade since the YWCA sold the campus, which was built beginning in the late 19th century as the St. Vincent Villa orphanage. The subsequent owner, charter school operator Imagine Schools, sold it in turn to a subsidiary, Schoolhouse Finance, and then leased it back.
Imagine later lost its operating charter from Ball State University, and its campuses on Wells and Broadway were taken over by a private school, Horizon Christian Academy, which then also had a school on Coliseum Boulevard.
Horizon closed its Broadway and Coliseum schools at the end of last year, and consolidated everything at the Wells Street campus.
Although the Wells Street buildings are as old as or older than Byron’s current building, they may be in better shape. A number of updates, such as the installation of new windows, were made under the YWCA’s ownership.
A tipping point
The facility Byron leases from the county is out of date and maintenance costs are too high. Parts can no longer be obtained for mechanical systems, and because of the way the building is configured, the nursing home cannot close off unused parts to save on costs.
“It becomes a tipping point where it is not financially feasible to keep doing those things,” said CEO Deb Lambert.
Byron celebrated its 50th anniversary as a nursing home last year. But the site’s history goes back much further, and was also once used by the county as an orphanage.
Lambert said she loves the “parallel histories” of the two properties.
Byron Health has architects, contractors and other experts looking at the property as part of its due diligence, and also is analyzing historic considerations to determine what may be changed and what cannot. “It may end up being that there are so many historic restrictions…that it may not work out,” Lambert acknowledged.
Byron also plans to seek feedback from neighborhood associations, city and council officials and Wells Street constituents.
Byron’s patients include residents from their 20s to their 90s with medical and/or developmental issues. It currently has 150 residents whose care is covered almost exclusively by Medicaid.