As the Hilltop Marketplace prepares to close its doors, another business is hoping to open them back up.
The Buckeye Ranch, formerly known as the Buckeye Boys Ranch, is looking to extend its services to the Westside of Columbus and feels that the location of the Hilltop Marketplace, 2865 West Broad St.,would be the perfect place to start.
Richard Rieser, a representative from Buckeye Ranch, was on hand at the Nov. 13 meeting of the Greater Hilltop Area Commission to introduce the organization to neighbors and answer questions from the commission and residents.
“Let me start by saying that this is still in the preliminary stages,” he said.
“It’s great to be on the Westside. I love the Hilltop,” continued Rieser, who was born and raised on the Westside.
Rieser explained that the Buckeye Ranch is a private, non-profit organization, put in place to help children who do not thrive in a regular school setting.
“We provide the education, counseling and support they need to be able to go back to their school and be successful,” he said.
Most of the children served at the Buckeye Ranch suffer from some type of mental health disorder, and many have difficulties in their home lives, according to Rieser. Many are dealing with issues such as addictions, neglect, depression, behavioral disorders, abuse and suicidal tendencies.
For this reason, the facility tries to involve the family in the treatment process as much as possible.
“I know the Hilltop and there are are some areas here where kids and families are struggling. Crime is an issue. We’d like to make an impact in a positive way,” said Rieser.
Children attending the Buckeye Ranch are usually referred there through Franklin County Children Services or the child’s home school. Parents can also work with their child’s home school to obtain a referral if they feel that the services provided by the ranch would be beneficial to their child.
Students are usually within the age range of middle school students, although high school students are admitted in some situations.
“School-based programs are typically more effective at the middle school level,” said Rieser.
The Westside location would serve 30 to 40 students.
The children are bused in from their home schools and typically attend classes at Buckeye Ranch for nine months to a year before they are deemed ready to return to their regular classes. The class schedule is similar in length to that of a regular school setting, and classes do let out for the summer, although the Buckeye Ranch does offer summer sessions. Special counseling sessions, outpatient services and family counseling would be available in the evenings at the West Broad Street location.
This facility would not be used for residential services.
While they don’t yet know how much funding would be required to renovate the existing structure to fit the needs of the Buckeye Ranch, Rieser said it would be a “substantial amount of money invested.”
“This will be a very nice facility,” he added.
While the existing tenants, such as the pharmacy and the newly opened post office would remain, the layout of the building is still in question.
Rieser assured the commission that those separate businesses would have an entrance independent from the school, but was not sure whether they would be receiving their own store fronts or what additional businesses would go into the site.
Renovations to the building would include the creation of classroom spaces, a gymnasium and an area for serving lunch.
Rieser added that the Buckeye Ranch would be open to the idea of opening the facility, including the gymnasium, to residents and community organizations after hours.
“We just want to be good neighbors,” he said.
Although many residents in attendance seemed to welcome the help of the Buckeye Ranch to the Westside, several others were wary of the changes they may bring.
The most common concern from community members stemmed around the worry that the facility would bring an “unsavory” or “violent” crowd to the neighborhood. Rieser did his best to allay those fears.
“We manage our facility very well and our staff ratio is very good,” he said.
Rieser added that students attending Buckeye Ranch go through a very strict screening process.
“We work with kids with mental issues, not kids from a detention center,” he said.
Rieser also explained that the students at Buckeye Ranch are supervised closely “from the time they step off of the bus until the time they get back on.”
“Kids are kids and they can be unpredictable,” said Rieser. “I think the benefit here is that we know what the issue is and we know what he have to work with.”
Some residents also asked if a police officer would be on duty at the facility.
“We do have a cop at our East Broad Street location, but I really don’t see the need here with the amount of staffing we would have,” he responded.
Riser stressed that the plans for the West Broad location are still in the evaluation stage and it will take approximately 45 days for the organization to make a decision.