Currently, the Franklin County Family Resource Center in Union looks every bit like a closed school building.
The signs for Clark-Vitt Elementary School are still in place. Inside, the hallways are dark, lunch tables are still in the cafeteria and other items that weren’t moved to the new Prairie Dell Elementary are sitting around.
But that will change soon. The Franklin County Children and Families Community Resource Board, which purchased the building and surrounding 11 acres for $950,000 from the Union R-XI School District, plans to go out for bid later this month on another $850,000 in renovations that will transform the facility into a “one-stop shop” for agencies serving children and families.
Long Time Coming
The Community Resource Board has faced several setbacks in its years of seeking a facility like this, said attorney Chris Jensen, the board’s chairman. It previously tried to purchase the former Fricks Market where the new Union City Hall now sits.
Jensen is now delighted to have the former elementary school, which he said is larger and easier to modify for the Family Resource Center’s needs.
“Everything you could think of if you want to serve children and families is right on the property,” he said.
Discussions with a possible anchor tenant, the Missouri Department of Social Services Children’s Division, also did not work out. “Thankfully, there were so many other agencies, we were able to take advantage of that,” Jensen said.
Now the two-story building is nearly booked, with more discussions ongoing.
While having multiple nonprofit services in one building has been done, this is the first time such a facility has been located in a former school, at least that Annie Foncannon, Community Resource Board executive director, knows of. It fits in with the vision of Ida Clark, who donated the surrounding land years ago, stipulating that it be used to serve children.
“We’re keeping the spirit of Ida Clark alive by keeping this a place for families and children,” she said.
Foncannon expects to have the agencies moved in by March 1, 2021.
Preferred Family Healthcare will take up the southern wing of the former elementary school’s first floor, with separate areas serving teens and adults.
“We’re finding that we have a lot of kids that are in treatment whose parents are also in treatment,” Foncannon said. “If we treat the child without treating the issues facing the family, we’re setting the children up for failure.”
St. Louis Counseling, formerly Catholic Family Services, will take up the north end of the lower level. It will offer psychiatry and other therapy to children and parents.
St. Louis Counseling has made its services available in Franklin County schools, but many children have had to go into St. Louis for them previously, Foncannon said.
A new agency will be Family Futures of Missouri, which will work closely with Franklin County’s new family court, though the court itself won’t be at the Family Resource Center.
“It’s very similar to drug court, but not necessarily involving just drugs,” Foncannon said.
Advanced Treatment and Recovery, the only for-profit business slated to be in the building, also will be located on the first floor. It will offer drug testing and fingerprint services for the other agencies.
“It’s nice because it’s right on site, so any of our families that need that service can get it,” Foncannon said.
The University of Missouri St. Louis (UMSL) Center for Behavioral Health also will have space on the first floor. Workers there will perform IQ tests and evaluations for conditions like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and autism.
Disorders can be difficult to figure out, Foncannon said
“What UMSL does is cuts through all that and actively gives us a clinical diagnosis, and lets us know what types of therapies will help with that diagnosis,” she said.
First floor lockers will be turned into the Foster Closet, where workers can find clothes or other items for children whose homes were involved in police investigations. An example Foncannon gives is a child whose parents are arrested in a methamphetamine raid, where everything in the house is considered contaminated. The child will need all new clothes until he or she can be placed with another family member.
“Foster families can come during the day and basically shop for the kids,” she said.
The downstairs music room will become a community training room. Foncannon said the risers in the room lend themselves to a learning environment. With an outside entrance, the room will be accessible for events on evenings and weekends.
The Community Resource Board is seeking grant money for a playground to go in half the school’s gymnasium, which will go along with the existing outdoor playground. She said that would be a good place for families with supervised visitation situations.
The existing basketball court serves as a place for counselors to talk to kids. Foncannon said kids are more engaged when playing a sport or doing something they enjoy.
She also has talked with city officials about retrofitting the former men’s locker rooms, for possible future use as an emergency shelter. She said that would help in a situation like the 2011 Joplin tornado.
Upstairs, the former library will be turned into the Children’s Advocacy Center. There, doctors will conduct interviews with children who are making accusations involving child abuse or sexual abuse.
“For them, it’s very important they have a space where children can go and feel safe,” Foncannon said.
Also upstairs will be Lutheran Family and Children’s Services, a contracted case management agency for the Children’s Division.
A New Model
Most of the agencies will pay some kind of rent, with higher rates for for-profit businesses, Foncannon said. She expects the investment in the facility to pay off within 10 years.
The Community Resource Board paid for the facility, and will pay for most of the renovations, using a children’s services fund approved by Franklin County voters in 2008. The board, which Foncannon said is a quasi-governmental nonprofit, oversees the quarter-cent sales tax money.
The children’s services fund awards money to 36 projects with 16 agencies, some of which are among those moving into the Family Resource Center.
One of the facility’s primary assets is the abundant green space outside, giving clients and families a place to eat lunch or relax. It is also across the street from the lakefront park.
Also appealing to potential employees will be a lactation room for new mothers, Foncannon said. “A lot of the people who work in this industry tend to be younger and in that stage of life,” she said.
Foncannon is in discussions with a food pantry about possibly setting up in the former school cafeteria. That will add to the Family Resource Center’s mission of being a one-stop shop for families and children.
“I think it’s going to be a place that’s going to be a model for other communities throughout the nation,” she said. “To bring services to families more effectively and efficiently.”