After unsuccessfully attempting to turn a long-shuttered hospital in Middleborough’s downtown into a financially viable operation, Kingston businesswoman Mary O’Donnell has donated the property to a nonprofit drug and alcohol rehabilitation organization where she serves as a director.
Daniel Mumbauer, president and chief financial officer of High Point Treatment Center, said plans call for the former St. Luke’s Hospital property on Oak Street to be renovated into a 96-bed mental health and detox and rehabilitation facility similar to those his organization runs in Brockton, New Bedford, and Plymouth.
The center would be an important addition to High Point’s offerings, Mumbauer said. “From a perspective of need, 96 beds is a good number,’’ he said. “We’re not closing any of our other sites.’’
In addition to inpatient services, the Middleborough facility will probably offer outpatient service and house High Point’s administrative offices, said Mumbauer. The property may also be used for training programs to license and certify drug and alcohol rehabilitation counselors.
“The building needs huge, huge work,’’ he said. “My optimistic outlook is we’ll be open June of 2014. My pessimistic outlook is we open six months after that.’’
The town will benefit from the jobs the operation will bring. “Right now, High Point has over 1,000 employees,’’ Mumbauer said. “When Middleborough is fully developed, we’ll have between 200 and 300 employees there.’’
Meanwhile, O’Donnell will be free of St. Luke’s, which she bought in 2002 for $625,000. Since then, she has paid about $300,000 in property taxes, while seeing no return on her investment.
Initially, O’Donnell tried to turn the property into 69 affordable-housing units. After battling the Middleborough zoning board for several months, she was given a permit for 46 - too few to make the project financially viable, she said.
In 2006, Massasoit Community College expressed interest in opening a satellite campus on the property, a proposal O’Donnell embraced. But that fell through, too. Massasoit’s Middleborough satellite eventually opened in a former elementary school.
In 2010, O’Donnell and the local police station study committee had a tentative land swap deal in which she would hand over St. Luke’s to the town for use as a new police station, in return for four municipal properties where she hoped to construct wind turbines.
“That deal never went anywhere’’ either, said O’Donnell, who recently threw the switch on three wind turbines built on land she owns in Kingston.
O’Donnell called her dealings with Middleborough officials “an aggravation.’’
“I think Middleborough is one of the loveliest towns in the state, with gorgeous old homes and nice, horsey people, but the sad thing is there’s a small group that controls Middleborough, and they are the problem,’’ she said.
Bruce Atwood, chairman of the Zoning Board of Appeals, expressed surprise over O’Donnell’s remark and said he did not agree with her characterization of Middleborough’s leadership.
“With zoning, you have to go by what the bylaw says,’’ he said. “We may be sticklers about some things, but in the long run it makes for a better development.’’
O’Donnell’s decision to donate St. Luke’s to High Point ultimately was prompted by a $25,000 bill from the Middleborough Municipal Electric Department, about which she complained unsuccessfully to the state. As part of the donation agreement, High Point assumed responsibility for the bill.
Resident Neil Rosenthal, who has served on several Middleborough boards, said he is sorry to see O’Donnell give up on Middleborough.
“I think Mary is a good person and a really sharp businessperson,’’ he said. “It’s a shame she and the town were at odds. Many felt there was not much effort put into dealing with her.’’
Rosenthal said he has heard little of High Point’s plans but remains hopeful. “It’s certainly better than sitting there derelict,’’ he said.
Town officials were not sure if High Point would need any special permits.
Willy Duphily, who runs an auto supply business in downtown, said he has not made up his mind on High Point’s presence in the center. “At first I thought I was against it,’’ Duphily said. “Then I thought, ‘What am I protesting?’ Right now all we have are a lot of unanswered questions. Will it be worse, or will it be better? I don’t know.’’
Chris Reed, owner of Reed’s Archery, a few stores away from Duphily’s, said he is wary.
“I’ve been broken into twice, so I’m not really high on having that kind of thing in downtown,’’ Reed said. “It’s great that there’s help for people who do drugs, but it should be on the outskirts of town, not in the center.’’
Mumbauer defended High Point’s record, noting that its Plymouth facility is adjacent to an elementary school, a day-care center, and a new subdivision.
“We also have counseling centers in Plymouth, Brockton, and New Bedford downtowns,’’ he said. “We have a good track record. I think town managers in the communities where we are now will have positive things to say about us.’’
Mumbauer has invited Middleborough leaders to visit other High Point locations. “Once they come, it will put a lot of fears to rest,’’ he said. “We try to be a good and quiet neighbor. I think we will fit in well.’’