The site of the former Deaconess Hospital on Humboldt Parkway – now a sprawling swath of grass-covered land near the Buffalo Museum of Science – may be destined for a new Head Start day care center and medical clinic before it gets any houses.
The Community Action Organization, which purchased the 5.7-acre property after Kaleida Health demolished the 268,000-square-foot hospital complex five years ago, is working with McGuire Development Co. on plans for a reuse of the entire site.
An initial proposal had called for a new affordable housing development, with 72 residential units consisting of single-family owner-occupied homes and a rental apartment building, along with accompanying services. However, the neighborhood already rejected the idea of affordable rental housing, so officials pulled back from that plan, said CAO Executive Director L. Nathan Hare.
Building owner-occupied single-family homes may still be the eventual concept for much of the property, he said. But first the nonprofit organization is eyeing something else.
CAO wants to erect a large single-story facility on part of the land, at 563 Riley St., just west of Humboldt Parkway and the Kensington Expressway.
According to an application from CAO to the Zoning Board of Appeals, the proposed 37,657-square-foot building would include a big early-childhood facility and a small medical clinic, with the front of the building facing Humboldt.
Parking would be available in both the front, so that parents would have "convenient access to the building when dropping off their infants and toddlers," as well as in the rear of the building, according to the application. There would be a total of 84 parking spaces, with entrances from Riley and Humboldt.
CAO would relocate its current True Bethel Head Start day care program at 909 E.Ferry St. – where its lease is expiring – and would enlarge it by adding an Early Head Start program as well, said McGuire Executive Vice President Danielle Shainbrown. The new day care would include 15 classrooms, two gross-motor rooms, a cafeteria and a large playground in a central courtyard.
That would enable CAO, which runs 40 other Head Start facilities for 2,700 children in Erie and Niagara counties, to serve children from 6 weeks of age to 5 years. And the new location is better for its client base, Shainbrown said.
"This area better supports their census than where their facility currently is, and they think they're going to drive a lot more children into the program," she said.
Meanwhile, the medical facility would be operated by a local health clinic that would set up a family and pediatric practice in the building to serve not only the Head Start children who often lack regular care but also the surrounding neighborhood, Hare said. He noted that besides the new Head Start, CAO also operates at least four other early childhood programs within a mile of that location.
"That's a very dense residential neighborhood, so there are lots of kids and lots of families," Hare said. "We wanted to have something that was reasonable walking distance for that community."
CAO is still negotiating with one of two possible providers, but it would take up only 4,100 square feet of the entire building, Hare said. Nothing else is planned for the building.
"When you're trying to attack poverty, you have to do it in a systemic way," Hare said, citing the agency's range of initiatives to revitalize neighborhoods and business districts. "If we can get this former Deaconess Hospital site redeveloped in a way that it becomes an anchor and transformative magnet in that community, it's going to draw people in and raise housing values."
The nonprofit organization is seeking a variance for "front facade transparency" because its plan calls for fewer windows than required under the Green Code, Shainbrown said.
If the variance is approved, she said, CAO and McGuire would come to the Planning Board "as soon as possible" for site plan approval before starting any construction. Shainbrown said officials hope to finish the $8 million project for a September 2019 opening.
As for the rest of the site, CAO still plans to "construct buildings along Humboldt Parkway as a second phase of the development," according to the application. Hare said that's likely to include single-family homes not only on Humboldt but also along Riley, Kingsley and Northampton streets, arranged to create a park-like atmosphere.
But that's still tentative, he added.
"We don't have firm plans in place for that yet, so we don't know for certain where we're going to go," he said. "But it's very unlikely that we're going to be doing rental affordable housing. The neighbors seem to feel that they would rather see owner-occupied housing along that space. So whatever we do, we're going to try to stay as close to that thought process as possible."