Move to Marion seen as helpful by officials

STATEGoldenLivingCenter28.jpg
STATEGoldenLivingCenter28.jpg

The former Golden Living Center facilities will become home for the Marion County Special Education Cooperative program in the fall. The program is currently based in Florence.

Marion city officials, the Marion-Florence Unified School District 408 and Marion County Special Education Cooperative all see the move as a good thing.

In time for the fall semester, MCSEC will have relocated its OASIS program from Florence into the former Golden Living Center facility in Marion.

For the city, it means an empty building will be occupied. The school district said it is more centrally located to the other districts within the cooperative and MCSEC considers the move best for the students it serves.

?We had six businesses close in our community (in 2008),? said Mayor Mary Olson.

One of those larger losses was the closing of Golden Living Center, but to avoid a complete catastrophe by having empty buildings and abandoned property, Olson said she and the city council, along with David Mayfield, city administrator, and Kjellin, bought the building for $100,000 from the Golden Living company not long after the facility was closed in mid-October.

The city had open discussions with Golden Living Center representatives on what compatible opportunities there were for a 23,711-square-foot building.

Prior to MCSEC buying the building in Marion, uses such as a call center, housing, lodging or other health services were considered.

Chris Cezar, executive director of the cooperative, said buying the building was a good thing, but that he anticipates the board of education with Florence will do whatever it can to help the vacated facilities.

Cezar said there are three buildings in Florence that are used by MCSEC.

?The city of Florence took over two of the three buildings, one which houses the OASIS classrooms (Opportunity, Achievement and Survival in Society) and the other a gymnasium,? he said.

The third building, a metal structure, is mainly administrative offices and still owned by USD 408.

In total, the cooperative employs 13 for the OASIS program and about seven more for administrative and support functions.

?One of the biggest advantages of moving to Marion,? Cezar said, ?is that we will be close to Marion schools and provide better access for the students.?

Lee Leiker, superintendent of USD 408, said he cannot say what the advantages will be to his district because his district is only one of five districts in the cooperative.

?We want to do what is best for all students in the five districts,? Leiker said.

?Our district hasn?t gained anything through this relocation, but we are anxious to see what advantages this will have on our students receiving help from the cooperative.?

The cooperative was created to meet the special education needs for Marion, Hillsboro, Goessel, Centre and Peabody school districts.

In further explaining the role, Cezar said, the cooperative provides all special education needs at its facilities with one more program in Peabody for severely handicapped students.

?These students could also have a combination of things,? Cezar said.

?They might have physical impairments, severe communication or cognitive learning issues or autism.?

The move from Florence to Marion will be done in phases, he said, with the primary deadline of moving the OASIS program to Marion by the next school year.

The OASIS classrooms, he said, help students with severe emotional behavior issues.

?This program has been available for about 10 years,? he said.

?Four teachers, nine paraprofessionals and a couple other support staff members provide the services for the OASIS program.?

Most of the students are at the Florence facility all day, but Cezar said the cooperative strives to reintegrate them back into their schools.

The OASIS program can go down to kindergarten, but for the most part it is helping students in third grade on up.

Leiker also addressed the fact that Florence will now have two empty buildings.

?Whenever any building or business in our district is empty, we are concerned and will do whatever we can to help,? Leiker said.

Echoing similar thoughts, Cezar also has concerns about the cooperative relocating and leaving Florence.

?We are concerned we have left vacant facilities in Florence,? he said. ?We are also wanting to do what is best for the kids, too.?

At a previous council meeting, the city approved the cooperative?s $20,000 payment at closing with the remaining $80,000 due in full by July 1.

Marion taxpayers will carry the $80,000 balance as a loan and at 4.5 percent interest?or about $1,800 in interest by July 1.

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