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    Posted: Nov 12 2015 at 6:03pm
Church plans to purchase former Middletown hospital site

By Ed Richter
Staff Writer
After eight years of renting space around Middletown, the Oaks Community Church will have a permanent home in the near future.

The local church has plans to purchase the medical building at the former Middletown Regional Hospital site, 103 McKnight Drive. On Wednesday, the Middletown Planning Commission unanimously approved a conditional use permit to convert the medical building for a church and use the surrounding 23.2 acres for church-related uses.

Nearly 50 people, mostly church members and neighborhood residents, attended the meeting in support of the request, which lead Planning Commission member Ann Mort to say, “It’s so nice to see this large a crowd in favor of something.”

City Planner Marty Kohler said the church is currently meeting at Central Connections, formerly known as the Middletown Senior Center. The medical building, and parking lot are owned by United Health Care, a subsidiary of Premier Health Partners, which is also the holding company that owns Atrium Medical Center. The health care organization also owns the adjacent cell tower that it leases to various providers, but that will not be part of the sale.

The remainder of the site is currently owned by the Butler County Port Authority, which assisted in getting various state brownfield grants to remediate the former hospital site as well as demolish the various buildings and parking garages. Since the hospital was demolished in 2008, Premier has been maintaining the green space.

Buddy LaChance, real estate director for Premier Health Partners, said they have been the property’s caretaker for about eight years since the hospital’s demolition. He said the proposed use for a church would be “far less” intense than when it was a busy hospital. LaChance said the original plan was to turn the tract into housing, but when the housing market crashed in 2008, the developer changed his mind.

“We feel very good as an organization that the property will be in good hands,” he said.

LaChance said the Port Authority would have to take action to transfer the property back to Atrium before it can be sold to the church. He said the Port Authority would hold a public hearing at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday to start the transfer process. LaChance said the sale could be closed by the end of the month at the earliest.

Pastor Bryan Lopina declined to comment on the purchase price of the land, but said the church will be spending about $200,000 in building renovations.

Rick Fishbaugh, who is representing the church, said the plan would be to finish the conversion of the lower level of the medical building by the end of the year and eventually the upper level will be used as the church grows and expands.

Fishbaugh also said that most of the property, now greenspace, could not be developed because there is no solid ground. He said the site contains mostly crushed concrete and other debris from the hospital demolition and there is a layer of dirt where grass has been planted.

“It would be very expensive to build on,” Fishbaugh said.

Matt Salyer, one of the church’s pastors, said the church has been in Middletown for the past eight years and wants to stay there.

“We deliberately planted ourselves in the city, and we want to bring our members to Middletown,” he said. “We never had any desire to go anywhere else.”

Salyer said the church encourages its members to live and spend their money in Middletown, and that it wants to contribute towards the city’s future.

Kohler said he has been involved with the neighborhood since the hospital moved, adding that concerns about the future use of the property “galvanized” residents to create the Highlands Historic District. He said of more than 50 letters that went out to residents living near the former hospital site, there were no calls with concerns about the proposed use.

“I hope it creates a positive impact,” Kohler said. “I think it’s a good fit as the other two churches have been integrated into the neighborhood.”

Wes Brooks of The Alameda, who is also a member of the Oaks Community Church and the Highlands district, said,”the church is encouraging people to live in the city. They’ll be a good steward of the property.”
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Joined: May 03 2013
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote itsamee Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: Nov 13 2015 at 1:30pm
So, can we still use the hill for sledding? 
Itsa me, mario!
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