HELENA — After years of serving families in the Helena area, Florence Crittenton is making a big move in hopes of expanding who they can help.
The organization has finalized its plans to buy a three-acre property off Cooney Drive, on Helena’s north end, where they will create a new campus. The goal is to bring all of their services – residential programs, outpatient treatment and child care and preschool – to a single location. Previously, they’ve been spread out over three different properties around town.
“It’s easier to build a continuum of care for clients when they can access all of those in a single location, so that’s been a huge advantage and one of the reasons we looked at this campus,” said Carrie Krepps, Florence Crittenton’s executive director.
The property centers around a historic building that dates back to the 1930s. It initially served as the Lewis and Clark County Hospital, then as the Cooney Convalescent Home until 1984. Most recently, it held the offices of Mountain-Pacific Quality Health.
Krepps says about a year ago, they were just looking for new space for their early childhood programs. When they visited the Cooney building, she says they were struck by how spacious it was, its location and its bright windows and views. Eventually, they began talking about much bigger possibilities.
“I think if I could have drawn it out in my mind, I’m not sure I could have done much better,” Krepps said.
Florence Crittenton began leasing some space in the building over the summer, launching two preschool classrooms there and bringing in some offices. However, much of the building will have to be extensively renovated to get it ready.
The first floor will host clinical and community-based services and administrative offices.
“As we’ve grown our outpatient programs, we’ve tried to do all of that in the residential program, and that can be really challenging for residential clients as well as outpatients,” said Krepps. “One of the things that was exciting about this was to have this more public entrance.”
Krepps said the second floor will essentially be completely rebuilt. It will house residential treatment space for pregnant women and women with young children.
“The way the building is structured, it really allows itself for wings – which is great because we can separate families based on moms’ age, so being able to have treatment for under-18 moms and then having a separate treatment area for moms over 18, which is a licensing requirement for us,” Krepps said.
Child care and preschool will be on the lower floor. Krepps said it will give them enough extra space to roughly double the number of kids they can serve.
“It’s so important in this community right now,” she said.
The campus also includes several existing outbuildings that will be used as transitional family housing – plus plenty of space for playgrounds and outdoor activities.
“It does feel like it was purpose-built for us; it really does,” Krepps said.
Krepps says they purchased the property for $2.5 million, after the previous owners were willing to lower the original price. Florence Crittenton is set to receive a Community Development Block Grant for $1.25 million, and the Lewis and Clark County Commission agreed last week to contribute $600,000 from the county’s American Rescue Plan Act funds. The rest came from private fundraising.
Florence Crittenton is planning to launch another funding campaign to raise money for the renovations. Krepps says it’s too early to determine the exact timeline for the work, but she hopes at least some could begin as soon as this summer.
Once the new building is finished, Krepps said they will likely sell their existing residential facility on Harris Street. The proceeds could then go into a fund for long-term maintenance on the new campus.
Krepps says the history of the Cooney property really resonates with them.
“It really has functioned for most of its life as a residential and a healing facility,” she said. “We love that part of it. We’re an old organization; we’re 125 years old in Helena, and the idea that we could be a historic organization in a historic building that has been such a fabric of the community for so long was just another additional bonus for us.”
You can find more information about Florence Crittenton and its services on its website.