Family Resource Center survives

2012-01-08T00:45:00Z Family Resource Center survivesBy Tyler Ellyson Columbus Telegram

COLUMBUS - Columbus Family Resource Center received new life last week when an agreement was reached that returns the property to local control.

Ownership of the financially troubled center is expected to be transferred from Boys and Girls Home to a Columbus-based nonprofit organization in the next 60 days, according to information provided to The Telegram by Don Heimes.

The property transfer, which comes at no cost to the local group, will allow much-needed improvements to be made at the 3020 18th St. building and provide some stability for the nine tenants with leases past this month.

Plans are to upgrade HVAC systems and complete other maintenance projects using a "substantial" donation made by the Peter Kiewit Foundation and matching funds from other anonymous donors.

Boys and Girls Home, which purchased the building for $1 from Columbus Community Hospital in 2003, cited high maintenance and utility costs along with an industry shift toward community-based services in its late May decision to close a youth group home, shelter program and alternative-education school based there.

That decision left the center's tenants - already taxed with increased rental fees - facing an Aug. 31 eviction deadline. However, the entities banded together in an effort to keep the center viable, negotiating lease extensions with Boys and Girls Home while pursuing possible alternatives.

In late December, the Sioux City, Iowa,-based agency announced it would pass the facility to a nonprofit group to own and operate, allowing the center to remain a one-stop community resource for health and human service programs.

Vanessa Oceguera, coordinator of Keep Columbus Beautiful, said Saturday she was relieved to hear an agreement was reached.

"It was nerve-wrecking on a daily basis to not know if the key would work today or if you would have heat. I think it will be a step in the right direction and would like to thank all of the people who were working so hard to get the resource center back for Columbus."

According to Heimes, who headed talks with Boys and Girls Home, the local group will establish a volunteer board of directors before negotiating long-term leases and determining rates for both existing and prospective tenants.

A manager will eventually be hired to assist with this process.

"There's a substantial amount of space available," said Heimes.

More than half of the 63,000 square feet of space is vacant, and Nebraska Vocational Rehabilitation and Nebraska Workforce Development plan to leave the Family Resource Center later this month.

The state agencies made recent commitments to move to 30 Centre Mall after being forced to make fall-back plans during the past eight months of uncertainty, the release states.

Nebraska State Patrol and ResCare Workforce Services also left the resource center following Boys and Girls Home's decision.

Catholic Charities, the center's largest tenant with approximately 40 employees, could not find an alternative Columbus location for its programs, according to the release.

Had a deal not been struck, many of these programs would have been relocated to Omaha.

Other remaining tenants include Columbus Area United Way, Big Pals-Little Pals, Arc of Platte County, Connect Columbus, Boy Scouts of America, Platte County Food Pantry and Drive for Five.

"I think the tenant group is pleased to have some certainty for the future and they look forward to having the facility operating as it was originally intended to be," said Heimes.

Space in the Family Resource Center will be available for lease in February or March. Interested parties can contact Pat Heimes, executive director of Columbus Area United Way, at 402-564-5661 or Don Heimes at 402-910-1548.

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