Work to start soon on new group home

A Hillsborough agency plans to break ground this summer on a facility for the developmentally disabled.

By null, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 25, 2003

It has been 30 years since the Hillsborough Association for Retarded Citizens' group home in Brandon felt new.

Now, the group is building another home that should feel new for the next 30 years - and it's asking the community for help.

HARC plans to break ground this summer on a group home for the developmentally disabled next door to its current location at 817 W Wheeler Road. The organization has secured a $150,000 grant from Hillsborough County, but hopes to raise another $150,000 to $200,000 in cash and in-kind donations from the community. The project will cost about $400,000.

"We wanted to make a home for them that would last, so we're looking at building one of the most state-of-the-art group homes in the entire country in Brandon," said David Rosynsky, HARC's director of development. "We'd love to see the whole community come together and make up the difference and get this house built."

The Brandon facility, also known as the Nettles Home, has long been considered HARC's "youth home," with residents in their teens and early 20s. They have suffered from a range of disabilities, including autism, mental retardation, cerebral palsy and spina bifida.

Group homes allow individuals with these developmental disabilities to lead relatively normal lives, attending school or working during the day and coming home at night.

The building went up in the late 1940s and has housed HARC's group home since the early 1970s. HARC has built several additions over the years, but it decided constructing a new facility would be more cost-efficient than further upgrades to the old one.

Employees say the house - one of six residential communities operated by HARC in the county - is outdated, with faulty wiring and plumbing requiring near constant maintenance work.

"It's embarrassing coming in every day and having four maintenance requests on my desk," said Justin Peterson, manager of the Brandon home. "When things take a long time to get fixed, it just makes it look like our house is being neglected or ignored."

Peterson said it's especially difficult for the residents to cope with constantly changing conditions.

"When something that they're used to (like a bathroom) is all of a sudden not available, that causes problems, and they'll regress into behaviors that wouldn't have occurred if something was available," Peterson said.

Students from Tampa Bay Technical High School designed the new home as a senior project after visiting the existing home.

"It was actually the students' idea to build a home for disabled kids," Rosynsky said. "They could learn the basics of draftsmanship, but they also wanted a way to impact their community."

Susana Boerner, an architect and the instructor of the Tampa Bay Tech class, said the students were happy to have a project that would not only last, but would help others.

The new six-bedroom home will have wider doorways, larger bedrooms, appliances, wheelchair-level counter tops and a fully accessible recreation area in the back. Peterson said the layout will also allow for the home's 12 full-time employees to keep better watch of all the residents from one central location.

"It's going to be a welcome change of environment," he said.

Early response from the community has been good, said HARC CEO Richard Lilliston. One group has offered to donate the plumbing, and another will donate labor. HARC has been in discussion with construction groups about providing building materials.

HARC has compiled a list of supplies and services it's hoping to receive from the community, including everything from termite treatment to drywall to a dishwasher.

"It offers to the donors an opportunity to go out and see a home that they helped build, that will serve their community hopefully for another 35 years, like the original one did," Lilliston said.

For more information on the home or to make a donation, contact HARC at 273-6364.

- Jay Cridlin can be reached at 661-2442 or cridlin@sptimes.com