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Safe Passage drops plans for former hospital building in DeKalb

DeKALB – Officials at the domestic violence assistance program Safe Passage said they no longer are pursuing the long-vacant former St. Mary's Hospital building at 145 Fisk Ave., and are now interested in another building.

Mary Ellen Schaid, executive director of Safe Passage, announced the agency's change in plans during Monday night's DeKalb City Council meeting as she presented Safe Passage's fiscal 2018 annual funding report.

The announcement is a reversal from her previous comments at a July council meeting, when she said the former hospital was the best possible location for the nonprofit, citing its proximity to public transportation and jobs.

"We've walked away from that project, but we are looking at different options in our community," Schaid said.

Schaid said after engineers walked through the Fisk Avenue property and put together more architectural plans, they estimated renovations at the building would cost $6 million to $7 million. The former hospital near the intersection of First Street and Sycamore Road has undergone extensive interior demolition but remains boarded up. After discussions with the Safe Passage Board of Directors, Schaid said it was determined the project would be too costly.

Safe Passage leaders planned to use the building to serve the nonprofit's growing client base, as their current facilities operate at or over capacity. Safe Passage serves 1,000 people through direct services annually, and 5,000 to 10,000 through indirect services to students and the community, Schaid said.

"Bottom line is, we have to have a new building," Schaid said. "We absolutely need a larger shelter, and we're going to keep working until we get it."

In Monday's meeting, Schaid said preliminary success with a new program could further affect their ability to operate efficiently out of their current location.

The program is a Lethality Assessment Protocol, which operates in conjunction with area law enforcement agencies to ensure victims in crisis receive on-the-scene aid. The program includes an 11-question survey, which allows officers to better assess the likelihood a person's life is immediately threatened. Depending how a victim answers those questions, the officer can then determine the best steps to offer immediate aid, including connecting an individual on-the-scene with Safe Passage's trained crisis response team via telephone.

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 72 percent of all murder-suicides involve an intimate partner, and 94 percent of those victims are female.

Schaid said the assessment program began Oct. 1 and already has handled 10 calls.

Although the organization has identified a new location for it's shelter, Schaid said she did not want disclose any more details about it because the building is not yet under contract.

The old St. Mary's Hospital building, which also was once used as administrative offices for DeKalb School District 428, has been vacant for 25 years. Plans to convert the building into luxury condos fell through.

In July, local developer Nicholas Cronauer presented the City Council with a plan to renovate and rehabilitate the property at an estimated cost of $6.25 million. His proposal included converting the space into a boutique hotel with commercial amenities, contingent upon acquiring $2 million in tax increment financing dollars from the city.

Cronauer did not respond to inquiries regarding the future of his plans for the property.

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