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Kevin Bonham, Forum News Service, Published March 17 2013

Grafton offers housing solution for Oil Patch

GRAFTON, N.D. – Rising housing costs associated with the oil boom are putting the squeeze on the elderly and group home residents in western North Dakota, and officials here in the northeast part of the state believe they have a solution.

They say the North Dakota State Developmental Center, also known as the Developmental Center at Westwood Park, in Grafton has the space and the capability for taking on more residents.

Local officials are lobbying for House Bill 1020, the state Department of Human Services budget, which includes a provision for a study on possible uses of the Developmental Center.

“Our goal is to keep the services that are here now, but to keep it as viable as possible for a long as we can,” Mayor Chris West said. “We want to make it leaner and make it even more of an asset than it already is to the community.”

Sen. Tom Campbell, R-Grafton, said legislators have been hearing that elderly and group home residents out west have seen rental rates double or triple.

“We have empty buildings and quality staff at the Developmental Center. We have staff with experience,” he said. “I’m working hard to help solve that, maybe transferring some of the developmentally disabled people out there to Grafton, to the center or to group homes in the area. We’re looking at some other things, some possibilities for seniors, too. We think we have some answers to housing there, too.”

The center, known as the Institution for the Feeble Minded when it opened in 1904, housed almost 1,500 North Dakotans with developmental disabilities in 1967. However, after a lawsuit filed by the National Association for Retarded Citizens, now known as The Arc, the resident population dropped from 988 in 1980 to 437 in 1989.

The court decision forced the mainstreaming of all but the most severely developmentally disabled, and led to the establishment of group home residential settings throughout the state.

Today, the center serves 84 developmentally disabled adults and 10 who are under 21, as well as about a dozen people living in group homes on an outpatient basis.

The Developmental Center operates on a biennial budget of about $50 million, including all medical care for residents, utilities and other services, according to Dr. Paul Kolstoe, director of clinical services.

The Developmental Center campus has evolved over the years to become a mixture of private and public uses to serve the Grafton and Walsh County areas. The tenants range from Northeast Human Services to Collette Community Fitness Center.

Two other campus buildings serve as elderly housing: Hancock Place, a remodeled building built in 1911, contains 19 apartments; Villa DeRemer has 30 apartments.

Local officials say the campus has plenty of room for growth.