Jefferson County wants to take control of the former site of the Montana Developmental Center in Boulder, and the state of Montana wants to help make that happen.
While county officials have not yet determined exactly how they hope to use the campus, they have expressed interest in providing services to military veterans. The county previously contracted Kristian Richardson, now a development officer for the Montana Department of Commerce, to determine possible uses for the property. However, on this project Richardson was speaking as a private citizen, not as an official representative of the Department of Commerce.
Officials from Jefferson County, the Montana Department of Health and Human Services, the Montana Attorney General's Office and other agencies gathered Wednesday for a tour of the campus and a discussion on how to move forward.
Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney said the nearly 60-acre campus with 20 buildings is owned by the state and rests on land controlled by the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, the Department of Corrections and the Department of Public Health and Human Services. The state will soon conduct an extensive survey to determine how much of the property is state trust land managed by DNRC, which could complicate the sale to the county.
"The goal is to get the facility to a place where the county can take it over," Cooney said. "DNRC is looking for comparable land parcels."
For trust land to be sold, the trust status must be transferred to a similar parcel of land. The goal of the DNRC is to find land comparable in acreage to the trust land on the MDC campus and transfer trust status to it. This would require many public hearings and a number of legal hoops to jump through.
"This is all being done with the goal to work with the county and give them the opportunity," Cooney said. "They have lots of ideas about what to do with the place. If we can get something operating here and people employed, that would be a very good thing."
Leonard Wortman, chair of the Jefferson County Commission, said he and the rest of the county hate seeing the facility sitting on the edge of Boulder being largely unused. Wortman has been working directly with Cooney and other state agencies to help facilitate a possible control transfer in the future. He joked that Jefferson County is considering selling the courthouse to buy the property.
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Richardson and Jennifer Garber, fiscal bureau chief of the developmental services division of DPHHS, showed off the extensive features of the property. The campus features multiple dormitory buildings each containing several bedrooms, a commons area, laundry facilities and a kitchen. The property has a church, which Richardson said can play a major role in rehabilitating those with substance abuse issues.
There are several large multipurpose buildings on the campus. One features several classrooms, a full fitness facility, a gymnasium and a swimming pool with an access ramp. Another building features a very large kitchen space, which is particularly useful during culinary arts classes. This building also has a cafeteria area, walk-in freezer, walk-in refrigerator and more classrooms. The administration building features a general store, mail room and recycling facility.
County officials are wondering what the state would remove from inside the buildings prior to a sale. The campus is mostly still fully outfitted, despite some areas seeing little use since the closure of the MDC last year. In many places, it looks as though everyone simply got up and left, leaving the facility exactly as it was before the closure.
When it was the Montana Developmental Center, the campus was used to house the severely developmentally disabled. In 2015, the Montana Legislature voted overwhelmingly to close the facility, providing just over two years to vacate. Many of the residents of the facility were transferred into community services such as AWARE just prior to the closure.
However, eight individuals who were there when the facility closed are still housed there to this day. The facility is currently home to 11 individuals, all of whom are in the Intensive Behavior Center. These are individuals whom DPHHS determined are not able to be safely served in the community.
The IBC was developed to address the need for "intensive therapeutic placement for individuals with developmental disabilities." This facility continues to operate as a small 12-bed facility on the former MDC campus.
In 2015, the facility housed 50 individuals and employed 250 people from Helena, Butte and Boulder. In the 70s, the facility housed hundreds of individuals.
The MDC was founded in 1893 and served the state of Montana for over 100 years. The facility officially closed on Nov. 1, 2018.