Is Region Ten request for expansion site-appropriate?

By Susan Gibbs

As I sat in front of my computer last Friday trying to wrap my head around the objectivity that would allow me to write an unbiased report on a rezoning request which, if approved, will place a mental-health outpatient facility in my back

Region Ten wants to occupy this 5,500-square foot building in a private residential area just outside the Town of Stanardsville

yard, a friend called toask if I’d heard about the school shooting that had just occurred in Newtown, Connecticut.

“No,” I snapped, “I’m working, and besides, it happened in Connecticut. At the moment I’m more concerned about what’s happening here.”

What’s happening here is most likely a result of the state’s mandate that all residents in state institutions return to a system of day programs and group homes in their communities. In this county Region Ten Community Services Board is requesting a rezone of little more than an acre on Lambs Lane in Stanardsville that would allow it to move its Greene Counseling Center from its current 1,838-square foot location at 24 Rectory Lane in Stanardsville to the 5,500-square foot former Bar Bell Club.

I’m a writer, and, typical of my sort, am prone to annoyance when my train of thought is broken. But I’m also a pretty nice person, and so was ashamed of myself for snapping at my friend. Immediately after the call ended I reached for my remote and clicked on the tube, meaning to let it play in the background as I resumed my struggle for objectivity.

“Twenty elementary school children between the ages of five and 10 dead, and six adults … shooter has been tentatively identified … rumored to have suffered from some sort of  mental disability … his mother found dead at their home …”

Region Ten’s request, if granted, would rezone the one plus acre on Lambs Lane from a residential area that allows the occupants of its single-family homes to enjoy quiet domesticity, complete with home gardens, blueberry bushes and maybe even a greenhouse to a business district that permits, among many other things, professional offices, emergency care facilities, public facilities and day care and child care facilities, along with temporary events.

“… surviving children told to hold hands and close their eyes as they are led from the school so they won’t see the carnage that was their playmates … staging area set up near crime scene for surviving children to be reunited with their parents … those whose names not called taken to separate area … identification of victims made via photographs … bodies can’t be removed until crime scene investigation is complete … no word on when that will be …”

County documents state that Region Ten provides mental health, intellectual disability, crises and substance use services for adults and children in local communities.

On its Web site Region Ten states among its objectives: the promotion of advocacy; the strengthening and expansion of community partnerships; the collaboration with community partnerships; the development of new partnerships; an increase in service capacity; a leveraging of resources through partnerships; an expansion of access to mainstream services and other community resources; and on its action plan – the development of “One Stop Shopping” for services.

Reporters on the scene at Newtown are having trouble controlling their emotions. Their voices are trembling, one is crying. Town and state officials are choking back tears as satellite interviews with experts from various fields begin to be broadcast … “people want to know why … this has got to stop … goes beyond platitudes and gun control reform … we have to look at all the elements that contribute to these tragedies … we’re going to be looking at everything … families … churches … disturbing pattern between the mentally disturbed and mass shootings … United States mental health system the worst in the world … gets a D- … mental health system needs to be examined and re-thought … … it’s time for change…”

Region Ten is currently located in this approximate 1,850-square foot builing near other county facilities in Stanardsville

County documents relevant to the Region Ten request state that the food pantry currently located in the building Region Ten wants on Lambs Lane would remain, and that all uses permitted by the B-1 county code would be allowed by right.

By right could arguably permit professional offices in the building that strengthen and expand community partnerships, collaborate with community partnerships, the development of new partnerships, expand access to mainstream services and other community services – in effect, one-stop shopping for services.

Breaking reports indicate that “Principal Dawn Hochsprung and School Psychologist Mary Sherlach, both among those killed, were coming out of a meeting when they confronted the shooter and ran toward the gunfire as it broke out, and that Hochsprung actually charged Lanza.

“Mary Ann Jacob, a school library aide, was with 18 fourth-graders when she heard ‘popping sounds’ and realized shots had been fired. She shouted, ‘Lockdown!’ and ran across the hall to inform another class before discovering that her classroom door would not lock. After blocking the door from the inside with a filing cabinet, Jacob and the rest of the library staff told the children that they were having a drill and guided them in a group-crawl to a closet in the back, where they settled them down with paper and crayons. When the police finally came, staff did not open the door until police slipped a badge under it.”

By now, Friday has come and gone. I’m into the weekend and still struggling with objectivity, moving away from it and considering this editorial instead as it comes clear to me that this issue is not just about my backyard; it’s about anybody’s and everybody’s backyard.

“Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, like other schools across the nation, had submitted to a threat assessment … the principal there, like her colleagues across the nation, had been trained to confront strangers in the wake of other school shootings across the country … the children, like their peers across the nation, had been taught to run … they had been trained in survival techniques … taught to hide … the principal had been focused on implementing more protections to keep children safe …

Some citizens are calling for school personnel to be armed … security professions say bars on windows and doors might help …”

On Sunday I made my weekly phone call to my son in Essex, Vermont, who teaches at a private institution of higher learning, and whose wife teaches in a public school.

After some moments of appropriate chit-chat about the coming holidays, I asked, casually, I hoped, if his eight-year-old daughter had seen reports of the Newtown shooting. When he told me no, followed by the disclosure that neither he nor his wife wanted to watch them either, I recalled the events of August 24, 2006, when 26-year-old Christopher A. Williams had entered Essex Elementary School intending to kill his ex-girlfriend and had instead killed one teacher and wounded another – after he had shot and killed his ex-girlfriend’s mother.

I then asked if my daughter-in-law had undergone training akin to that given the staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, and he told me they both had; that the training had begun after the Columbine shooting in 1999, and was ongoing.

On Monday, I checked in with Greene County Superintendent of Schools David Jeck, who informed me that a division-wide crisis plan is required in the public school system here, along with an individual crisis plan for each school. Each principal is required to review the plans with staff at the beginning of each year. Lockdown drills are held at each school in the fall, and, Jeck added, Greene County Sheriff Steve Smith has expressed a desire that his department conduct more. Each school has its own visitor check-in system, and each is to have only one door unlocked for visitors.

“In the wake of the tragedy unfolding in Newtown … a grassroots organization has been created called Newtown United … on December 16, a Facebook page was created. This group of concerned citizens would like to create an open discussion on the gun-control debate here in the United States, as well as the lack of funding for mental health issues in our country today … goal is to create a meaningful dialogue, locally and nationally around these issues … as well as recent violence in our country …”

With Region Ten requesting a move to a space in a residential neighborhood that is almost 3,700-square feet larger than its current facility, Eye on Greene suggests that local concerned residents call for an open discussion encompassing the specifics of who, what, where, when, why and how Region Ten intends to use the 5,500-square foot facility it hopes to occupy.

CNN reminded its viewers during its coverage of the Newtown massacre that cases of people with a sickness that drives them to commit acts such as that committed upon the students of Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown are rare, that the vast majority of those who seek treatment for mental health issues are not violent, but the problem is the state is not discriminating. All residents in state institutions are to be released and treated in communities.

This is by no means meant to be an attack on Region Ten. That organization, in the past, has decried the lack of space for those who need to be, at least temporarily, contained. Nor is it meant to be an attack on those who use Region Ten’s services. It is, instead meant to be a call for meaningful, realistic action on the part of our elected officials to take meaningful, realistic action to protect the public.

Governor Bob McDonnell’s suggestion that our school personnel be armed is not the answer.

Eye on Greene does not believe that localities should be turned into war zones in lieu of the state addressing the problems in our mental health system.

It goes without saying that those problems cannot be solved overnight. In the meantime Eye on Greene suggests that the Greene County Board of Supervisors host the discussion suggested above, and that US Representative Robert Hurt, Senator Mark Warner, Senator-elect Tim Kaine, Senator Emmett Hanger and Delegate Rob Bell –who would like to be our next attorney general — be invited, so that the community at large can make an informed decision about whether or not the services the state has charged Region Ten with providing belong in anybody’s back yard.

Posted in: Editorials

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