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Proposal aims to convert unused, underused space at Life Skills and Transition Center

GRAFTON -- A community task force is crafting a proposal to convert unused and underused space at the Life Skills and Transition Center into a mixture of public and private uses.

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Paul D. Kolstoe, Ph.D., Director of Clinical Services/Psychology and Sue Foerster, Supt. at the Life Skills and Transistion Center in Grafton, stand near Hancock Place, which was converted to residential apartments about 15 years ago. Photo by Eric Hylden/Forum News Service

GRAFTON -- A community task force is crafting a proposal to convert unused and underused space at the Life Skills and Transition Center into a mixture of public and private uses.

Three priorities -- housing development, mental and psychiatric health care services, and treatment options for troubled youth -- were identified in a recent study, "Building for the Future: Charting a Path Forward for Grafton and the LSTC," prepared by Praxis Strategy Group of Grand Forks.

The group's goal is to draft legislation outlining the need and feasibility of such projects for the 2017 North Dakota Legislature, said state Sen. Tom Campbell, R-Grafton.

"There's been more and more discussion in the Legislature in recent sessions, not necessarily to close it down, but that it's inefficient and something should be done to make it more efficient," he said.

The study, funded by the city of Grafton and the Red River Regional Council in Grafton, confirmed some of the ideas task force members had from the start, Regional Council Executive Director Dawn Keeley said.

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"The next step is to share the results locally and with state agencies and other stakeholders, to see if our findings and goals are in line with theirs," she said.

Keeley said the city also will consider developing a request for proposals from potential developers.

Shared space

Today, the Life Skills and Transition Center, formerly the State Development Center, serves 83 people, including 63 adults and 20 youths, on site. It also serves 13 adults who live in the community through its Independent Supported Living Arrangement Program.

It also provides crisis services to the community, as well as vocational and outreach programs.

Among them is CARES (Clinical Assistance, Respite and Evaluation Services), which provides regional access to physical, occupational and speech therapy, adaptive equipment and medical and dental services to clients in the Grafton area.

The LSTC is the base for a statewide Intellectual Disabilities Behavioral Health (IDBH) program, led by Paul Kolstoe, LSTC director of clinical services and psychology. He works with a team of six behavioral analysts who provide services to nearly 300 clients in 35 communities across North Dakota.

IDBH grew out of earlier efforts to establish a state behavioral health program for people with intellectual disabilities, LSTC Superintendent Susan Foerster said.

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"We were a natural to pick that up and implement it because of our experience with the intellectual disability population," she said. "Paul has had his whole career working with intellectual disabilities. (We) were just sort of a natural to implement that program."

The center, which employs about 375 in Grafton, is located on a 43-acre campus.

Campus buildings provide a blend of public and private uses.

Among them is the Collette Fitness Center, a community fitness center that offers an indoor swimming pool, a full-sized gymnasium, walking tunnels under the campus and a variety of fitness programs and classes.

The center also is home to a Veterans Administration Community-Based Outpatient Clinic, a North Dakota Drivers License Division office and a North Dakota Securities Department office.

Other space is leased to the Anne Carlsen Center, Head Start, Migrant Health Services, Tri-County Crisis Intervention, Catholic Charities and other agencies.

LSTC recently earned another four-year accreditation from the National Council on Quality and Leadership, which grades on person-centered care, individual outcomes, community integration and ongoing quality improvement. The facility first was accredited in 1989.

Room to expand

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Previous redevelopment projects at the facility include the sale and rehabilitation of two historic, vacant buildings and their conversion into Hancock Place, which provides 19 market-rate apartments, and Villa DeRemer, with 30 low- and moderate-income apartments. Both buildings are owned by Metroplains Management based in Devils Lake.

The state-owned New Horizons building and two residential living areas in the Cedar Grove building are vacant.

The Prairie View and Professional Services buildings are underused and could be developed.

"There's a definite need for the LSTC. There are a couple of extra buildings that we could use or put to additional use," Campbell said. "It's been fun looking at a couple of different things. There's a lot of different buildings there now. We're just expanding that. We're trying to be proactive."

Center history

The facility, originally called the School for the Feebleminded, was written into the North Dakota State Constitution in 1889. It opened in 1904 as a place to educate and care for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

It reached its peak population in the late 1960s, with about 1,300 people being served through the Grafton location and San Haven, a satellite facility near Dunseith, N.D.

In 1982, a U.S. District Court ruling resulted in substantial, court-ordered changes to North Dakota's service system for people with developmental disabilities.

In 1989, the North Dakota Legislature approved a change in mission and changed the name from the Grafton State School to the State Developmental Center. The San Haven location also closed that year.

The state also began to expand opportunities for people with developmental disabilities to live, work and participate in their home communities.

In 1993, the school began offering additional services both on site and off site, according to a historical sketch by the State Historical Society of North Dakota.

In 1995, the state changed the Grafton facility's name to the State Developmental Center at Westwood Park.

It became the Life Skills and Transition Center in 2013.

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