St. John’s Place gifted to Victoria Community Coalition, 501(c)3 granted
By JAMES BELL
VICTORIA — As efforts to find a use for the former rest home in Victoria continue, plans have solidified and currently include apartments, a child care center, a community center, a park and space for the Ellis County Historical Society — all under the banner St. John’s Place.
But while excitement builds, Victoria Community Coalition Chair Jeff Pfeifer shared the significant investment needed to see those plans come to fruition with the Ellis County Commission during its regular meeting Tuesday.
He opened his comments by noting the facility had originally served all of Ellis County.
“Residents came from the entire area, and employees came from the area,” Pfeifer said. “It was a huge asset to the county. It provided jobs, provided activities for school kids. It was a great resource as a community asset.”
Since 2012, it has been unoccupied after the rest home closed and residents were moved to a facility in Hays.
The closing “had a huge impact on the community,” Pfeifer said.
“We have had a huge community effort to get something going,” he said. “I think everybody was tired of seeing the building sitting there and have talked about what a waste it was.”
Following a series of community meetings discussing the potential of the building, the coalition received its non-profit 501(c)3 designation in December, and Pfeifer transferred ownership of the property to the community-focused group.
“The VCC is the owner of a 40,000-square-foot building, 6-and-a-half acres and a lot of potential for Ellis County,” Pfeifer said.
Through the process of the meetings and an effort to find the best use of the building, housing and childcare space were determined to be potential options for the building, leading to the development of a phased plan that will include those priority uses and more, he said.
At St. John’s Place-PHASE 1
“We have got to start somewhere,” Pfeifer said.
The current plans for At St. John’s Place include 20 apartments for seniors, a child care center for up to 24 children, a community/senior center, a park and space for the Ellis County Historical Museum.
While the society had initially hoped to be moving items into the space before the end of 2022, the plan was delayed.
“We are still working on that,” said Ellis County Historical Society Executive Director Amanda Rupp during the annual meeting of their board of directors. “When it goes silent, a little bit people assume or get a little nervous, but we are still working on that with the (Victoria Community Coalition.)
“That’s not going away, it’s just a timing issue. We’ve been held up a little bit with insurance,” Pfeifer said. “It’s still in the works, and we’re pretty excited about it. It’s a huge opportunity for the county.”
Rupp said they hope to be inside the location and open within a year.
While the society continues in its efforts, the coalition looks to begin work on the facility's north side during the first phase of building rehabilitation.
Work during phase 1 will be located in the newest part of the building and includes a studio apartment, six one-bedroom apartments, four two-bedroom apartments, common areas, a new north entrance, parking and the child care center.
Cost is anticipated at around $3 million for phase 1.
The coalition hopes to secure around $1.35 million from state grants and other funds, $1 million from large foundation grants and the remaining $650,000 from community donors.
“I think it’s ambitious, but a building this size, an opportunity this size, warrants it,” Pfeifer said.
A community donor campaign is planned for March, and the coalition plans to apply for a $650,000 Moderate Income Housing grant this week. The Victoria City Council unanimously voted last month to approve the application, as MIH grants go exclusively through local governments.
“This is a competitive grant,” Pfiefer told the Victoria council. “Just submitting is not a done deal.”
But this year, extra money has been earmarked for those grants.
“It's really exciting because they put in $20 million,” said Justine Benoit, Northwest Kansas Planning and Development economic development coordinator. “Usually, the pot was like $3-4 million. So there's a lot more money in there.”
She also said that even if the application is not approved, it can be submitted again, and the Kansas Housing Resources Corporation – the agency that oversees the grants – would offer guidance to strengthen future applications.
Pfeifer asked the county commission to pen a letter of support that would accompany the application.
The commission approved the support unanimously. They also unanimously approved waiving landfill fees for materials removed from the building during ongoing demolition.
To stay up to date with the Victoria Community Coalition or to find links to donate to the project, visit victoriakscommunity.com.