- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 27, 2016

BOULDER, Mont. (AP) - Montana officials will seek help from the Legislature to address concerns among Boulder residents about the impending closure of a residential facility for the developmentally disabled.

The Montana Developmental Center Transition Advisory Committee convened in Boulder on Wednesday and considered proposals offered by the governor’s office, including the possibility of asking legislators for $500,000 for a development fund to help keep Boulder’s economy afloat.

The Montana Developmental Center is the town’s largest employer. It now has 215 employees, about half of whom live in Boulder, to care for some 50 patients.

The Legislature last year ordered the center shuttered by 2017 after a long history of troubles, including revelations that an employee sexually assaulted a resident in 2010.

The state has vowed not to issue layoff notices until July 1 and said it would give employees at least 60 days’ notice before their jobs are eliminated.

Drew Dawson, who heads a panel of residents looking into ways to minimize harm to the community, wants Montana to invest in workforce retraining for employees who will be out of jobs.

He said the Boulder Transition Advisory Committee is concerned about what will happen to employees and clients at the center.

A key concern is the future of the facility itself, a collection of residential units and offices sprawled across a 60-acre campus that dates back more than 120 years.

“We’d like a commitment you’re not going to abandon those buildings,” Jefferson County Commissioner Leonard Wortman told the advisory council.

The governor’s budget director, Dan Villa, who chairs the state advisory panel, said officials will continue to examine how best to repurpose the facility with help from the townspeople.

The local committee has applied for a grant from the state’s Big Sky Trust Fund to pay for a community master plan, part of which would examine how to transform the facility into an economic asset.

The state has made arrangements to transfer nearly all of the patients, with the majority going to private, community-based facilities.

The governor’s office wants to keep a part of the facility open as a secure unit to house about a dozen patients who can’t be moved to private facilities. That proposal would require legislative approval, Villa said.

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