By DENISE GRANT
Blanchard Valley Industries, a nonprofit employer of adults with developmental disabilities, is no longer a “sheltered workshop.” It’s changing, growing and moving.
Part of the Blanchard Valley Industries operation has moved to West Main Cross Street, and part will be going to Hancock County 99.
Changes in federal Medicaid laws require the industries to move off the campus of Blanchard Valley Center at 1700 E. Sandusky St., and establish operations completely independent of the center in order to receive funding. Medicaid pays about 60 percent of the bill for the industries’ services. The balance is paid with local taxes.
The new law is a move toward privatization of services for the developmentally disabled.
A former division of the Hancock County Board of Developmental Disabilities, Blanchard Valley Industries made the split from the county board on Dec. 31, 2016.
Kan Du Studio, a division of Blanchard Valley Industries, formerly located at 329 S. Main St., opened off the Blanchard Valley Center campus in 2007. Kan Du moved to a new location, 322 W. Main Cross St., in February 2017. About 25 adults work at the art studio.
Blanchard Valley Industries’ day habilitation program, which provides regular activities for adults with disabilities, moved to the same building, “Center 322,” early in February. About 25 adults attend that day program.
The 12,600-square-foot building, which once housed The Rocking U pizza parlor, was built in 1902. It was purchased by the county Board of Developmental Disabilities in 2015 for $194,124, and completely renovated for about $2.5 million.
The Ohio Facilities Construction Commission contributed $525,000 to the renovation. The project also received a $35,000 grant from the Findlay-Hancock County Community Foundation and the Blanchard Valley Center Capital Improvement Fund.
“The extent of renovation was enormous,” said Kelli Grisham, superintendent of the county Board of Developmental Disabilities.
“We gutted the building down to the brick walls. We removed all the flooring, plaster and drywall on both floors. Basically, except for the walls, it’s a brand new building. Virtually everything is new: the roof, windows, wiring, plumbing, heating and air conditioning unit, and elevator.”
The two-year renovation converted the space into an art studio/showroom, kitchenette, restrooms, offices, day habilitation area, and conference rooms. There are 6,200 square feet on the first floor and 6,400 square feet on the second floor.
The county board owns the building, with Blanchard Valley Industries paying to lease the space. Blanchard Valley Industries also will use office space and conference rooms on the second floor. Three second-floor conference rooms will be used by Blanchard Valley Center for training and other events.
“This will truly be a community building,” said Grisham. “We have created meeting rooms and work space for our tenants. It also gives our agency access to badly needed meeting space.”
Mike Chiarelli, CEO of Blanchard Valley Industries, said the move toward more independence is good for the Industries.
Chiarelli was named as CEO by the Blanchard Valley Industries’ board in late 2017. He has served on both the Hancock County Board of Developmental Disabilities and the industries’ board.
Next to move will be the Blanchard Valley Industries “production” workers. These adults are still working out of a large warehouse on the eastern edge of the Blanchard Valley Center campus.
They will move to a rented building at 11728 Hancock County 99. The new location moves production closer to the industries it serves, Chiarelli said.
About 50 adults work in production at Blanchard Valley Industries. Their work includes boxing automobile parts, working with packaging, sorting clothes hangers and bagging hardware for products that require assembly.
Production is expected to be relocated by March 19.
“I just think for the individuals it is the right thing to do,” Chiarelli said. “They want to be involved in the community and we’re teaching them more and more how to engage in the community. This kind of puts them in the middle of everything.”
The Hancock County Board of Developmental Disabilities voted Monday to award a $2.9 million contract to Alvada Construction, Alvada, for renovations to the production warehouse now occupied by Blanchard Valley Industries. Grisham said the building will be converted into office space for Blanchard Valley Center’s administrators and caseworkers, which will free up needed space in the center’s school building.
Blanchard Valley Center now serves about 747 people with disabilities, from cradle to grave, in Hancock County. That’s an increase of about 150 people in the past five years.
Even though Blanchard Valley Industries now operates as an independent nonprofit, Blanchard Valley Center still provides case management and other services for its clients.