Victoria residents meet to discuss the future of the former nursing home
By JAMES BELL
VICTORIA – About 100 members of the Victoria community gathered recently to discuss the future of an iconic building in the city, the Victoria St. John’s Rest Home.
The facility was closed for many years and has gone through a series of out-of-state owners, many of whom do little to maintain the building, now in a dilapidated condition, with mold and water damage visible throughout the whole building, courtyards that now look like small forests and a flat roof that quickly deteriorates.
After attending 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, walking the hallways, shocked at the condition of the facility while gently recounting memories of friends and family members who had called the facility their last home.
“When I decided to come up for auction, I had two goals in mind,” said Pfeifer. “Preserve the building and make it an asset for the community.
To that end, he opened the meeting to the crowd who gathered outside the main entrance on a cool summer night.
“My first thought was that it was designed as a nursing home, and people donated a lot of money for a nursing home, a retirement home, let’s do it,” Pfeifer said.
But a standing act restriction on the pitch could take that option off the table, he said.
“Forever,” Pfeifer said. “It goes with the earth.”
He said two lawyers said this would prevent the facility from being used again for this purpose, but he would also look into the matter further.
After his opening remarks, he opened the rally to the crowd to share ideas on the future use of the building, what they would like to save and what they would like to change.
“We’re just thinking,” Pfeifer said. “Some of these ideas can go elsewhere outside of this property, elsewhere in town.”
As the ideas were presented, he wrote the idea down on large sheets of paper, on which the group later placed colored dots on the ideas they preferred.
No shortage of ideas
Despite the potential for a legal restriction to become a nursing home, the first idea presented and frequently referenced was to transform the facility into a sort of group residence for the elderly, if not a nursing home with full nursing staff, another form of group accommodation.
It was suggested to have housing specifically for the elderly, to open housing in the city, as many older people would like to downsize but currently do not have the option to do so without leaving Victoria.
And that would create a better living situation for the many single elderly people who are currently struggling because they live alone.
Marla Robben then suggested that the building would make an excellent community center as part of the Victoria Recreation Commission.
“The recreation commission is working on a community recreation center,” she said.
Robben said they had considered the facility in their discussions about a new recreation center.
“If we could do something with this building it would be fantastic,” she said. “We could have an exercise room. We could install a full-size gym.”
An exercise room, offices, community hall, and dining site for the church would also be considered part of their plan for the building.
“The problem is the money,” Robben said. “We’re looking at a (community development block grant). ”
While their planning is still in its early stages, she said a major concern for the development of a recreation center elsewhere in the city is the availability of land.
“There’s no land in Victoria, Kansas to build something the way we want it to,” Robben said. “Unless someone donates, or we can buy land outside of town.”
Converting the building into low to moderate income apartments was also proposed as an idea.
And then, Mary Kay Schippers pitched an idea that the facility could be a great 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.
The shippers initially acknowledged: “It’s a strange idea.” Then, she asked the participants about their family histories. A majority have reported a family history in Ellis County for at least three generations.
“Who better than us to represent Ellis County,” said Schippers. “We’ve made Ellis County history, and the Ellis County Historical Society is looking for a place.”
With the Basilica just down the street and the Sternberg Museum in the immediate vicinity of Highway 70, she said the location would be a perfect fit not only for Victoria but the county.
“The church has between 10,000 and 15,000 visitors each year,” said Schippers. “If we brought in even a small portion of those on the streets, it could benefit the whole community.”
“When they stop and see the church, they’re here maybe half an hour, then they go right back down the freeway and go to Hays and have lunch, or go to Hays and come back or go to Hays and pass. the night.
“But if we can get them to come here for another two hours, then they’ll fill up with gas here. They’ll have lunch here. They’ll go and see maybe Grantsville and maybe Grant’s grave and the cemetery near by. from the railroad tracks. We’re just steeped in history here, and this space would be amazing. ”
And she said they were looking for a space the size of the facility – 30,000 square feet.
“Can you imagine what a draw it 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 them,” she said. “The difference between a community that survives and a community that thrives is that the community that thrives brings in dollars from the outside.”
“We can support our own community,” Schippers said. “We eat in restaurants. We go to the gas station. We do all that. But if you want it to thrive, you need dollars from Texas, New York, Pennsylvania, and California. And we could get it because he’s the one coming to this church. ”
She also told the crowd that although the museum is associated with Hays, nothing says he has to stay there.
“That’s not saying, the Hays Historical Society, but the Ellis County Historical Society,” Schippers said. “Why shouldn’t it be here? I think we have one of the biggest draws here, and it’s right down the street.”
With the organization already operating as a nonprofit, she also noted that their ability to raise funds for such a move would be easier than any new business.
“If they had a plan and a place, they could get it,” Schippers said.
Another participant also pointed out that the church is also looking for a space to display historical artefacts, which could fit perfectly into this plan.
Although it was not initially mentioned by anyone during the meeting, Pfeifer said he received messages suggesting that the building could be used as a day care center.
It was then suggested that a senior center and a day care center might well go together in the space.
Robben said if the facility were to be integrated into their organization, these types of uses and others could be developed as part of their services.
“There would be plenty of room for all the little things,” she said.
Pfeifer said it was also mentioned that the center could be of use to the Catholic Church as a retreat center.
No one even suggested that the facility be demolished, with many in the group sharing aspects of the facility and the grounds they would like to save.
After the discussion was over, people lined up to put three dots next to the ideas they were most in favor of. Housing, a new recreation center and the Ellis County Historical Society won the majority of votes, despite a long list of ideas for the facility.
As potential uses continue to be explored, Pfeifer said comments could be sent to Facebook at savetheresthome, via email at [email protected], or by mail to Save the Rest Home LLC., PO Box 94, Victoria, KS 67671.