Greenwood clinic stalled amid budget cuts

The front of the Greenwood building.
The Greenwood building, formerly an elementary school, sits vacant at the corner of Halliburton and Normal streets in Kirksville adjacent to the campus of Truman State University. A plan to convert the building into an autism clinic has been put on hold because state funding for the project was withheld during across-the-board cuts to higher education.

Despite a prevalent need in the community, development of the Greenwood Regional Autism Clinic is still on hold because of lack of funding.

In 2016, Truman State University began plans to turn the Greenwood Elementary building into a regional autism therapy and diagnostic center, where Truman students could work alongside professionals in diagnosing and serving patients. The building renovations were originally slated to finish fall of 2018, but lost funding after state cuts to Truman’s budget. The project is currently postponed, but with the need for this clinic is still high and the University is looking for funding.  

Janet Gooch, vice president for academic affairs and provost, said when Truman first requested funding in 2016, former Gov. Jay Nixon promised about $550,000 for the project. The University received a portion of that sum up front, which it used to create preliminary schematics for redesigning the Greenwood building. While there is no work being done on the building right now, Gooch said Truman is still looking for funding both from the state and private sectors.

“We’re still making a request from the governor to fulfill the promise, and we hope that he does,” Gooch said. “We have also looked to private donors for assistance with the project.”

Cindy Dowis, Kirksville R-III School District Director of Special Education, said she also supports the creation of a regional clinic. Kirksville has 41 children from preschool to 12th grade diagnosed with autism, Dowis said.

The Thompson Center for Autism and Neurological Disorders, located in Columbia, Missouri, is the nearest place for families in the Northeast region to receive services. The drive is long, and the wait time is longer.

“That’s 95 miles away,” Dowis said. “It’s now at least a year’s wait to get in.”

Dowis said she thinks there is a great need to train teachers, counselors and speech therapists on how to work with disabled children, and she said she hopes the Greenwood clinic would allow students to get hands-on experience.

In addition to funds for renovating the building, Truman would also need to raise money for furnishing it. Charles Hunsaker, interim director of advancement, said equipment and even office furniture can cost a lot, but he thinks many people in the Kirksville community would be interested in preserving the Greenwood Elementary building through this repurposing.

“There’s so many people who went to Greenwood, so they love that building,” Hunsaker said. “That was their grade school, and so there’s a lot of history in the community wrapped up into that.”

When the project began, Hunsaker said the advancement office wanted to be ready accelerate a fundraising campaign for the furnishings, similar to what A.T. Still University did when they started their dental school. The office would prepare proposals and look into foundations that supported autism clinics, trying to attract donors by offering naming rights, Hunsaker said. Donors who gave the largest sums could have areas of the clinic named after them. For example, people might want their name on a central room designed to be a mock living space, Hunsaker said. The room might have stoves and furniture, and patients could interact in actual settings that they might live in.

The goal for the furnishing campaign would be in the $20,000-25,000 range, said Dave Rector, vice president for administration, finance and planning. Beyond that, the project’s final budget is estimated at $5 million, Rector said. The building is so old it will be expensive to renovate, and because it will not be designed to generate income, there is little chance for the clinic to pay for itself, Rector said.