By Graham Sturgeon, co-editor
ASKING THE TOUGH QUESTIONS – Bancroft Village Council member Brian Barnum questioned Welcome Home Veterans President Kim Bowen and Durand Board of Education members Tuesday, March 22. Barnum wanted to hear the “meat and potatoes” of Bowen’s plans to transform Wilbur Bills Elementary into a veteran treatment and housing facility.
Bowen openly discussed the Bancroft residents’ concerns, but could not offer detailed plans until she knows she will be allowed to buy the property. (Independent Photo/Graham Sturgeon)
Bancroft residents got another chance to discuss the potential sale of Wilber Bills Elementary Tuesday, March 22 with the Durand Board of Education (BOE) and Kim Bowen of Welcome Home Veterans (WHV), the high bidder for the property. Bowen bid $50,000 for the 25,793 square-foot building that sits on approximately 15 acres in Bancroft. Her proposed nonprofit veteran care/education/employability facility would be the first of its kind in the county, and would provide jobs for up to 30 people to start.
Several Bancroft residents and Village Council members have insisted the village be included in the process, but Tuesday’s meeting seemed to bring the village, the BOE and Bowen closer together. Bancroft representatives spoke again on Tuesday about feeling left out of the sale process, which seemed to perplex many of the board members and Sup’t. McCrumb.
“I don’t think it is accurate that the village has not been included,” McCrumb said in response to Bancroft Planning Commission member Rick Wright, who thought the sale was being ‘shoved down the village’s throat.’ “That’s why we’re still here gathering input, trying to reach out. It stings a little bit that you feel that you haven’t been included.”
Trustee Al Perry assured the Bancroft residents that the sale “is not a done deal. This is you being included. This is the process. Your input is weighing heavily in the decision we will make.”
Bowen also faced questions during the meeting, with issues such as security, transportation and privacy being discussed. Bowen explained that many details would need to be worked out later, after she knows if she will be allowed to purchase the property. She said patients will be given background checks before being admitted, and she noted that she would staff a psychologist and therapists to provide access to medications and counseling. She would also be open to a curfew, if needed. The facility will not be able to offer transportation at first, but Bowen is planning to address that issue.
The biggest point of contention the Bancroft Village Council members have had with Welcome Home Veterans is its status as a tax-free entity, but Bowen seems to have satisfied that concern by offering to compensate the village in return for not paying taxes. Shiawassee Economic Development Partnership President and CEO Justin Horvath also pledged to help Bowen set up a “Payment in Lieu of Taxes” (PILOT) for WHV. The federal program would ensure that any payment WHV wants to make in lieu of paying property taxes would go directly to the village.
Bowen said Tuesday that she has been looking for a location in the mid-Michigan area for a couple of years and originally wanted to open an assisted living, similar to her Vandecarr Rd. facility. The decision to go the nonprofit route was dictated by available USDA financing options, as Bowen expects to spend $1.8 to $2 million remodeling the school. She also mentioned that several local businesses have offered to help with the renovations, and that WHV has looked into grants as well.
The board will meet again at 6:30 p.m. on March 30 in the Durand Middle School library.