Mark Barry crossed the hall between classrooms during a tour of a building that once was a farmhouse.
But since 1992, it has been the enrichment center at the Arc Nature Coast's Neff Lake campus, which was a chicken farm in the 1950s. The house is also a money pit, says Barry, who has been the Arc's director for 23 years.
The nonprofit organization is a chapter of the Arc of the United States, which provides services for adults who have intellectual and developmental disabilities.
"The farmhouse wasn't intended for this use," he said.
But the chapter's current campaign — plus grants and a community budget request that Barry hopes the Florida Legislature will approve — could result in new buildings for Arc's Neff Lake campus and the farmhouse's demolition.
"I'd love to be the first one to swing the hammer," he said.
The demolition would be part of a three-phase plan to better serve clients who are aging or have severe disabilities.
"The intent is to make this 30-acre campus a quality place for people with aging challenges and severe disabilities," Barry said.
The plan's first phase is for the addition of four six-bed group homes. One of the homes was completed in July. The second and third are already funded and under construction, and will be finished by spring. Barry has applied for a grant for a fourth home. If Arc is awarded the grant, that home could be done in the spring of 2017.
The project's second phase calls for the demolition of the existing enrichment center and its replacement by a life-skills center, which would be about 9,000 square feet, including a covered porch and a covered drive. The center will have sensory and memory units featuring a classroom, a therapy room and a computer lab.
The third phase is improvements of other facilities on the campus. All of the phases are designed to help Arc provide care at a single location to its most vulnerable clients.
"Travel is hard on somebody who's developmentally disabled and has aging issues," Barry said. "So to be able to have all of those services in close proximity is an advantage for that population."
The proposed life-skills center is necessary to provide quality service, Barry said.
"It's so difficult for our staff to manage wheelchairs and walkers and people with ambulatory issues in these facilities," Barry said. "They were never built that way and we're serving and seeing more and more of those individuals."
The increase in clients is the result of improved health care for the population Arc serves. They are living longer, Barry said. But the extra space would also accommodate potential clients who are currently on waiting lists.
"Every person we serve has a family. What would they do if they didn't have the support of the Arc?" Barry said. "We want to be a very accommodating, relaxing space because of who we serve."
But the Arc needs more money to make that happen.
Barry expects that the residential additions all will be funded by grants from the Florida Housing Finance Corporation and funds from the Hernando Housing Authority. The life skills center will need to be funded in part by a community budget request of $850,000, which the Legislature has yet to approve, plus $500,000, which Arc intends to raise through its capital campaign. Since kicking off the campaign in April, the organization has raised about $150,000.
Arc seeks both monthly pledges and one-time contributions. Barry also invites individuals to consider planned gifts by including Arc in their wills.
"We have a viable plan. It's achievable," Barry said. "We just need the financial means to make it happen."
Contact Arleen Spenceley at (727) 869-6235 or [email protected] Follow @ArleenSpenceley.