GJ Regional Center closing, but when?
The Legislature’s Joint Budget Committee didn’t say no to a plan to close the Grand Junction Regional Center campus and move its residents to new housing elsewhere in town, but it didn’t say yes either.
Instead, the six-member panel that drafts the state’s annual spending plan told the Colorado Department of Human Services to go through the governor’s budget office to make a formal request for money to carry out that plan, something it hasn’t yet done.
All that stems from a bill the Legislature passed in 2016 calling on the department to look for new housing for the center’s 22 developmentally and intellectually disabled residents by July 1 of next year.
“We now have a fairly good set of recommendations of how we would complete the transition from the regional center,” the department’s executive director, Reggie Bicha, told the JBC on Wednesday. “There’s no way that we could leave the Grand Junction Regional Center campus in total by July of 2018. However, the legislation said, ‘If you can’t make it by the date, give us quarterly reports to let us know of the progress.’
“We can’t get off the campus in total by then unless we were to move people into existing resources, which we have not proposed to do at this time, in large part because we felt we heard from the Legislature a desire to continue the program in the Grand Junction community and include a plan that may include building property,” Bicha added.
That’s exactly what the department is trying to do. Still, JBC chairman Kent Lambert, a Republican senator from Colorado Springs, said that’s not all quite accurate.
“Director, you’re making some statements here that, frankly, I don’t recall,” said Lambert, who was one of the chief sponsors of last year’s bill. “I thought the legislation was fairly clear, that the campus was to be vacated by the end of June.”
Actually, the bill does have a section that allows for a delay of that June 2018 deadline, said Rep. Dave Young, D-Greeley and a JBC member.
“The number one priority is the well-being of the people that are there at the Grand Junction Regional Center,” Young said. “Part of my heartburn on this is we haven’t seen a global plan (from the department). We’ve seen bits and pieces of it.”
Bicha said the 2016 law calls for doing nothing with the D Road campus, such as selling it off, until its residents are first relocated, and there’s no way that can happen unless its plan is approved.
That proposal calls for building four to six new homes somewhere in the Grand Valley where the 22 residents would live, something that would take at least a year to do. As a result, they can’t be moved off campus any sooner than sometime in late 2019. The homes are expected to cost about $1.7 million each.
In the meantime, Bicha said it can move virtually everything else off the campus, such as its administrative offices, by the deadline.
“If we were to attempt to move 22 residents, build new properties, move day programming, move administrative programming, close some of the facility management operations like the garage and the warehouse ... if we tried doing that all at one time, I think that would be highly disruptive if not somewhat disastrous,” Bicha said.