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Great Falls Tribune front page article: "Boulder moves on without MDC"

Great Falls Tribune - 07/05/2016 - A01

Boulder moves on without MDC

Town receives grant to fund new master plan


BOULDER - Residents here are plodding forward with plans on what to do in the wake of the Montana Developmental Center closing.

Drew Dawson, chairman of the Boulder Transition Advisory Council, told members of the Montana Developmental Center Transition Advisory Council at its June 23 meeting that the town of 1,200 residents had received a $20,500 master plan grant from the Big Sky Trust to address community needs and stimulate economic development. The grant comes with $19,000 in matching funds from the town.

"We will take the data and put together a comprehensive plan for the Boulder community," Dawson said.

MDC is Montana’s only residential facility for people with developmental disabilities that provides 24hour care for those with the most severe behaviors or severe self-help deficits.

In May, Gov. Steve Bullock signed Senate Bill 411 to close the facility and move the 52 people with severe intellectual disabilities, mental health issues and personality disorders to communitybased settings by June 30, 2017. Proponents of the bill say years of assault and neglect left the state with no other option than to close the Boulder facility, which employs nearly 250 people.

Those who want the center to stay open say closure is premature and that SB 411 was rushed through the 2015 Legislature.

The town then formed BTAC and had study circles comprised of residents offer suggestions on how to improve Boulder and use the MDC campus after it closes.

The BTAC committee also met with Meg O’Leary, the director of the Department of Commerce, and Sean Becker, administrator of the Montana Office of Tourism and Development, to discuss marketing, branding of Boulder and ways to attract businesses.

Dawson said the master plan is the "trigger point" for more funding from federal, state and private agencies as well as provide demographic and economic information to attract business.

According to the BTAC outline Dawson provided to the committee, a repurposed MDC facility should be consistent with the vision statement adopted during the study circles. It should not be huge, but similar in size to the MDC campus and tap into the skills of existing MDC employees and Boulder residents and provide a foundation for jobs for future generations.

The salaries and payroll of the repurposed facility should be comparable to or greater than those of the current MDC.

Dawson said the message the residents were sending to the state was to not put the nearly 50-acre campus to use with something inconsistent with the Boulder community.

Dawson said Friday the town has been assured by governor’s office that is very likely the next use will be a state function.

"We don’t know what it will be and governor’s office and budget office are looking at possibilities between what state agencies need and MDC has to offer," Dawson said Friday.

He said the community suggestions he offered the MDC panel will let officials know what uses of the campus are inconsistent with wishes of the town.

"Rather than react, we put together criteria ahead of time," he said.

Rep. Kirk Wagoner, RMontana City, sits on the MDC panel, and says he has been following BTAC’s activities.

"If we don’t take care of ourselves, our own industry and own future, my fear is the state will abandon Boulder," he said.

He said he’d like to see a good mix on the property, "a diversity of industries so we don’t get wiped out if one industry dies."

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