Sep 27, 2021 10:55 AM

Victoria residents gather to discuss future of former rest home

Posted Sep 27, 2021 10:55 AM
The new owner of the former St. John's Rest Home, Jeff Pfeifer, speaks with area residents gathered to discuss ideas for the nearly 40,000-square-foot facility.
The new owner of the former St. John's Rest Home, Jeff Pfeifer, speaks with area residents gathered to discuss ideas for the nearly 40,000-square-foot facility.

By JAMES BELL
Hays Post

VICTORIA — About 100 members of the Victoria community gathered recently to discusses the future of an iconic building for the city — the Victoria St. John's Rest Home. 

The facility has been closed for many years and passed through a series of out-of-state owners, with many doing little to maintain the building, now in a dilapidated state, with mold and water damage visible throughout the building, courtyards that now resemble small forests and a quickly deteriorating flat roof. 

After going to a sheriff's sale in August, the building was purchased by Jeff Pfeifer. He called the meeting to hear ideas for the nearly 40,000-square-foot facility.

Prior to the meeting, the community was invited to tour the facility with many, including former staff members, walking the hallways, shocked about the state of the facility while softly recounting memories of the friends and family members that had called the facility their final home. 

"When I decided to come to the auction, I had two goals in mind," Pfeifer said. "Preserve the building and to make it an asset for the community." 

To that end, he opened the meeting up to the crowd that gathered outside the main entrance on the cool summer night. 

"My first thought was it was designed as a rest home, and people donated a lot of money for a rest home, a nursing home, let's do that," Pfeifer said. 

But a permanent deed restriction on the land may take that option off the table, he said. 

"Forever," Pfeifer said. "It goes with the land." 

He said two attorneys said it would preclude the facility from once again being used for that purpose, but he would also look into the matter further. 

After his opening remarks, he opened the gathering up to the crowd to share ideas of what the building may be used for in the future, what they would like to save and what they would like to change. 

"We're just brainstorming," Pfeifer said. "Some of these ideas may go somewhere else off this property, somewhere else in the city." 

As ideas were presented, he recorded the idea on large sheets of paper, in which the group would later place colored dots on the ideas they liked the best. 

No shortage of ideas

Despite the potential of a legal restriction on becoming a rest home, the first idea presented and one frequently referenced was turning the facility into some sort of senior group residence, if not a rest home with a full nursing staff, another form of group housing.  

Having housing specifically for seniors was suggested, opening housing up in the city as many seniors would like to downsize but currently have no ability to do so without leaving Victoria. 

And it would create a better living situation for the many single seniors currently struggling as they live alone. 

Marla Robben next suggested the building would make an excellent community center as part of the Victoria Recreation Commission. 

 "The recreation commission is in the process of working on a community recreation center," she said.  

Robben said they had considered the facility in their discussions of a new recreation center. 

"If we could do something with this building, that would be fantastic," she said. "We could have an exercise room. We could put in a full-size gym." 

An exercise facility, offices, a community room and a meal site for the church would also be considered as a part of their plan for the building. 

"The problem is the money," Robben said. "We are looking at a (Community Development Block Grant)." 

While their planning is in the early stages, she said a major concern for developing a recreation center elsewhere in the city is available land. 

"There is no land in Victoria, Kansas, to build something like we want," Robben said. "Unless someone would donate something, or we could buy some land out of town." 

Turning the building into low to moderate income apartments was also offered as an idea. 

And then, Mary Kay Schippers presented an idea the facility could be an excellent home for the Ellis County Historical Society. 

Currently located in Hays, the museum has struggled in recent years to house its collection safely and is currently unable to open it to the public. 

 Shippers first acknowledged, "It's a strange idea." Then she asked attendees about their family histories. A majority reported family history in Ellis County for at least three generations. 

"Who better to represent Ellis County than us," Schippers said. "We made Ellis County history, and the Ellis County Historical Society is looking for a place." 

 With the Basilica right down the street and Sternberg Museum a straight shot down Interstate 70, she said the location would be a perfect fit for not only Victoria but for the county. 

"The church has anywhere between 10,000 to 15,000 visitors every year," Schippers said. "If we brought in even a small portion of those that are down the street, it could benefit the entire community." 

"When they stop and see the church, they are here maybe half an hour, and then they get right back on interstate and go to Hays and eat lunch, or go to Hays and come back or go to Hays and spend the night.

"But if we can get them here for another two hours, then they are going to fill gas here. They are going to eat lunch here. They are going to go check out maybe Grantsville and maybe Grant's tomb and the cemetery by the railroad tracks. We are just full of history here, and this space would be amazing." 

And she said they are looking for a space around the size of the facility – 30,000 square feet. 

"Can you imagine what a draw that would be for Herzogfest?" she said. 

Those visitors spending money in the city, Schippers said, would then make other projects possible. 

"It could help fund those," she said. "The difference between a community that survives and a community that thrives is the community that thrives brings in outside dollars." 

"We can support our own community, Schippers said. "We eat at the restaurants. We go to the gas station. We do all of that. But if you want it to thrive, you need dollars from Texas and New York and Pennsylvania and California. And we could get that because that's who comes to this church." 

She also told the crowd that while the museum is associated with Hays, there is nothing saying it must remain there. 

"It does not say, the Hays Historical Society, it says Ellis County Historical Society," Schippers said. "Why shouldn't it be here? I think we have one of the biggest draws right here, and it's right down the street." 

With the organization already operating as a not-for-profit, she also noted their ability to raise funds to make such a move would be easier than any new venture. 

"If they had a plan and a place, they could get it," Schippers said. 

Another attendee also pointed out, the church is also looking for a space to display historical items, and that could fit perfectly into that plan. 

While not mentioned initially by someone at the meeting, Pfeifer said he received messages that suggested the building could be used as a daycare center. 

It was then suggested, a senior center and daycare could go well together in the space. 

Robben said if the facility were to be incorporated into their organization, those types of uses and others could be developed as a part of their services. 

"There would be plenty of room for all of the little things," she said. 

Pfeifer said it was also mentioned the center might be of use to the Catholic Church as a retreat center. 

No one even suggested the facility be torn down with many in the group sharing aspects of the facility and grounds that they would like saved. 

After the discussion ended, people lined up to put three dots next to the ideas for which they were most in favor. Housing, a new recreation center and the Ellis County Historical Society earned the majority of the votes, despite a long list of ideas for the facility.

As potential uses continue to be explored, Pfeifer said feedback could be sent to Facebook at savetheresthome, by email to [email protected], or by mail to Save the Rest Home LLC., P.O. Box 94, Victoria, KS 67671.