PAOLA — Paola residents who live near the former Ursuline Sisters campus learned more details about a planned drug rehab facility in the area during an informational session Monday, Aug. 23.
About 20 local residents attended the meeting, which took place inside the city-owned Paola Community Center on the former Ursuline Sisters campus.
City officials, including Paola City Manager Sid Fleming, attended the meeting, but it was led by Robert Olivarez of Arista Recovery LLC.
Olivarez, who lives in Texas but spends multiple days every other week in Paola working on the project, was representing the larger ownership group GMF Capital. That group purchased the entire 36-acre Ursuline campus in the spring for $6.5 million and recently announced plans to turn the motherhouse into a drug rehab facility.
Olivarez said the total investment is closer to $10 million due to all the renovation work taking place at the motherhouse and throughout the grounds.
“Our ownership group is 100 percent committed to not only refurbishing it but making it the crown jewel of all of our centers,” Olivarez said.
Olivarez said he has personally opened or turned around more than 50 treatment centers, but he admitted that this will be the first one with the recently rebranded Arista group. Soon to follow though, he said, will be facilities in South Carolina and Virginia.
Olivarez was friendly and cordial throughout the meeting as he answered questions from the neighbors, but he also said he realizes the plan is an unwanted change for many of the residents who have enjoyed the beauty of the grounds and used it for walking and a play area for their children.
“I know that most of you don’t want me here right now, but my goal is to prove you wrong,” Olivarez said. “My goal is to make Paola a place of healing.”
When asked why it took him so long to announce plans for the rehab facility and reach out to the neighbors, Olivarez said he and his team were caught up in all of the planning early on, and he likely wouldn’t have been able to answer the questions as well as he could now. Still, he admitted it was an error in judgment to wait so long, and he assured the neighbors that he wants to be as transparent as possible.
“We absolutely have nothing to hide, and our intentions are 100 percent pure in your community,” Olivarez said.
Security was a concern that was raised by multiple residents. Olivarez said the facility won’t accept any clients who have a criminal record related to sexual offenses or aggravated assault. He also mentioned plans to fence the primary facility at the motherhouse and install 55 cameras with facial recognition software.
Oivarez said clients won’t be kept there against their will, but every effort will be made to encourage them to stay for treatment. If they were to leave, Olivarez said the Paola Police Department would be contacted to conduct a wellness check.
“We’re going to do everything we can to contain that,” Olivarez said.
Some residents questioned what type of treatment would be taking place at the facility.
Olivarez said the facility will focus on medical detoxification and residential treatment. The detoxification typically lasts 3 to 7 days, followed by 18 to 21 days of residential treatment. After that, Olivarez said they typically graduate to outpatient services, which will take place at a new facility in Overland Park.
Olivarez said the business would be for profit and it is not a 501-c3. The facility will accept insurance and cash but not Medicare or Medicaid. Olivarez said it will target blue-collar workers who aren’t poor and aren’t rich, which is an audience often overlooked when it comes to drug treatment. Olivarez said there is a need for facilities like the one in Paola.
“That’s one of the things that is sorely missing in our treatment industry,” Olivarez said.
The plan, Olivarez said, is to have a soft opening in November followed by a grand opening in December or January. At full capacity, the facility could provide 130 jobs and treat 80 clients. Due to staffing, though, Olivarez said it will likely be closer to 60 clients at a time.
Olivarez said a lot of work is being done to the motherhouse to prepare it for opening, including carpet removal, redoing the rotting front steps, redoing the plaster and ceiling, and closing off the rotunda overlook because it is a safety concern for residents.
Olivarez said the front of the motherhouse also needs to be raised 6 inches to prevent water from pouring into the building.
Nearby Monica Hall needs even more work, including a new roof and kitchen upgrades, but Olivarez said the focus right now is on the motherhouse. Monica Hall may be used to expand services in the future, he said.
“We want to use it, but it’s in no condition to be used,” Olivarez said.
As for the grounds, Olivarez said top priorities include plotting out an area for the fence and possible new parking for the Paola Community Center.
“We’re willing to work with the community and city on anything,” he said.
The religious statues on the property, including the ones from the grotto, have been removed.
Olivarez said St. James Academy in Lenexa will be getting most of the religious statues for a walk of saints leading to a grotto, and a new church being built by St. Paul Catholic Church in Olathe next summer will get the altar, stained glass windows and other religious artifacts from the Ursuline chapel.
Olivarez said he hated to see the stained glass windows go, but he knows they will be safer in their new home.
“I’m fearful what I would do if a client, in a fit of rage, through a basketball through that window,” he said.
The three-story brick Ursuline Motherhouse building has been largely unused since 2008, when dwindling numbers and a need for infirmary care prompted the remaining aging nuns to put their 36.5-acre Ursuline campus on the market and merge with another Ursuline community in Maple Mount, Ky.
This isn’t the first time a group has looked at utilizing the former Ursuline campus for a new purpose.
In 2018, philanthropist Darol Rodrock of the Darol Rodrock Foundation announced plans to purchase the property and turn it into a home for foster children who have aged out of the system. Those plans fell through the following year.
In 2019, the property was purchased by Clareview LLC with reported plans to operate an assisted living facility, but that vision also failed to materialize.
Olivarez said he thinks the property is the perfect fit for what they want to do, and after spending quite a bit of time there, he can see why it is so special to the community.
“You guys are definitely blessed to have this in your community,” he said.