Former Prison May Become Home For Adults With Special Needs
VERO BEACH, Fla. — A 200-resident community for adults with autism and special needs could take over the former Indian River Correctional Institution.
Organizers of Bigger Dreams Inc. plan to modify the former state prison buildings, creating a community where adults with special needs can live independently and receive training for local jobs.
Family members of the adults with special needs and unrelated retirees also eventually could live in their own homes on the property, said Oliver Edwards, one of the nonprofit’s organizers.
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“It’s big enough for a village,” Edwards said of the property.
Bigger Dreams submitted the high bid of $876,250 to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, which is handling the sale through its Bureau of State Lands.
Edwards said he has paid a 10 percent deposit and now is soliciting investors and supporters who have expressed interest in the property, which, he said, was appraised for about $5 million. He has 90 days to pay the balance of the purchase price.
Edwards said he hasn’t estimated how much it would cost to renovate existing buildings on the campus, complete construction necessary for the community to open its doors and, ultimately, to expand.
The Indian River Correctional Institution, a state prison for teenage boys, closed in 2012 as part of Department of Corrections cost-cutting. The campus has 17 buildings, including nine dormitories that once held up to 484 prisoners.
“What’s there is a great starting place for what we’re trying to do,” Edwards said. He said the Bigger Dreams Academy would have a working farm and about 125 employees.
The state tried to auction the property in August, but had no bidders. The minimum bid was lowered in January to $749,000 from $890,000, hoping to attract attention.
Indian River County considered buying the property, but commissioners decided in January the price was too high, despite its proximity to the county landfill. The state’s second-highest bid in this second round was $838,000 from Patrick Brian Fitzpatrick.
There is a need for housing and employment opportunities for adults with autism, Edwards said.
“There’s not a safe place for them to go,” he said. Group homes and institutions don’t always offer stimulation or much of a life beyond waiting for meals, he said.
While there has been interest in the facility once modifications are completed, Edwards said he hasn’t begun to accept applications for residents.