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Local leaders say closure of the Glenwood Resource Center will change the makeup of their community

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Katie Peikes
/
IPR file
The Glenwood Resource Center is a state-run facility for Iowans with severe disabilities.

With the Glenwood Resource Center slated to close in 2024, local officials are concerned about the gap it will leave in the southwest Iowa community.

The state-run center for people with severe intellectual disabilities has been in Glenwood for over 150 years – first opening as an orphanage and then transitioning to a care center. It is Mills County’s largest employer, providing more than 500 jobs to Glenwood-area residents.

Glenwood’s mayor Ron Kohn said he believes its closure could lead to many of its families and employees looking to new communities for support and jobs. He said it would be hard to see the relocation of so many of the communities’ families.

“It's very unfortunate for our community because many of these people have contributed a great deal in our various organizations over the years and so they're important,” Kohn said. “But we understand that their family must come first.”

“We would want to keep as many families as possible in our area, so it wouldn't impact the school in a negative way, nor our communities in a negative way.”
Devin Embray, superintendent of Glenwood community school district

The state announced the plan to close the facility earlier this month, after a 2020 Department of Justice investigation found residents in the facility were subject to “harmful experimentation” and “poor medical care.” State health officials said continuing care at the facility is untenable – citing an inability to comply with federal demands.

Kohn said he foresees many of Glenwood’s employees will have to look to other communities for similar positions. He said he’s hopeful the state will provide retraining for those employees who want to stay in the county.

“The possibility of a similar job opening up is not very likely,” Kohn said. “And so that presents a seriously challenging environment for them to decide what their future is going to hold.”

Glenwood Community School District Superintendent Devin Embray said he’s concerned about the families who will be impacted by the facility’s closure. He said it will be important for the community and state to focus on easing their transition.

Embray said the school district could lose anywhere between 50 to 150 students if those with ties to the facility decide they need to relocate.

“My first thought goes to the families and what we can do for them in retraining anybody,” he said. “We would want to keep as many families as possible in our area, so it wouldn't impact the school in a negative way, nor our communities in a negative way.”

Glenwood Community High School sits in Mills County. The school district to which it belongs could potentially lost more than 50 students due to the closure of the Glenwood Resource Center.
Glenwood Community School District
Glenwood Community High School sits in Mills County. The school district to which it belongs could potentially lose more than 50 students due to the closure of the Glenwood Resource Center.

Glenwood Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Rachel Reis said she hopes nearby habilitation homes – like Nishna Productions and Glen Haven Village – can expand to accommodate some of the workers.

Reis said the community is also beginning to have conversations on how to shift and adapt after losing its primary employer. She said she wants to see the area diversify its businesses in the future.

“This may be a transition and growth period for our county to kind of look at things a little differently, and to set ourselves up differently so we're not so dependent on one large employer,” she said.

Kohn said the city council is beginning to work to see what could potentially take the care center’s place – a challenge due to the facilities’ size and central heating and cooling system. But, he said he’s hopeful the town can attract new employers to take the center’s place.

Embray said the gap is an opportunity for the county to evaluate how it can improve the community.

“We have to look at this as an opportunity moving forward and look at how we can repurpose the campus for the greater good of the community after it closes,” he said.

Kendall is Iowa Public Radio’s western Iowa reporter based in Sioux City, IA.