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St. Joseph County Commissioners approve study to explore rebuilding Portage Manor

Screenshot captured via Zoom

The St. Joseph County Board of Commissioners approved a study Tuesday to explore rebuilding the county’s home for eldery and disabled residents.

County officials say Portage Manor will run out of money in about three years without intervention, and that the building itself is outdated.


“Being 115 years old, it does not meet Medicaid Waiver requirements or the standard of care that the government or, really, anybody expects,” county constituent services manager Frank Fotia said at the commissioners’ meeting Tuesday. 


The study will be conducted by Fort Wayne firm MKM Architecture + Design – which specializes in building long-term care facilities – and will  explore both how much a new facility would cost and whether it would be financially sustainable after that.


Fotia said it would also explore whether a new facility could support more than the 140 residents currently living at Portage Manor.


When asked by Commissioner Derek Dieter, Fotia said the study wouldn’t explore development of any of the county-owned land surrounding the current building. 


“The scope of this study is strictly, 100 percent, a long-term care facility to house the residents that live at Portage Manor,” he said.


Earlier this year, proposals to develop part of the campus into a workforce housing complex drew backlash from opponents who saw it as a first step to closing the facility. The South Bend Tribune reports that the proposal was eventually withdrawn.


The study is expected to cost around $50,000 dollars and take about two months to complete. The money will come from the county’s share of American Rescue Plan funding.


Dieter and Commissioner Andy Kostielney voted to approve the study, but Commissioner Deb Fleming voted against it.


“I’d like to see what the difference really would be in upgrading the facility that’s already there, that building, because I’ve always liked it,” she said. “I’m not sure a new one would be good.”


Fotia said a renovation study had been conducted and could be compared to the rebuilding study once it’s completed. 


“This is a conversation that took place during the budget cycle with council, as well – that the proposed rehabilitation of the existing facility did not seem tenable,” Kostielney added. “So we thought, ‘Well, what would it cost if we had a structure that could better serve needs, both financially and those participants at the manor.”


According to documents submitted to the commissioners, MKM expects to bring a final recommendation to the board in February.


CORRECTION: The audio for this story has been updated to correct a vote total the commissioners voted 2 to 1 to approve the study, not 2 to 3.


Contact Gemma atgdicarlo@wvpe.orgor follow her on Twitter at@gemma_dicarlo.


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Gemma DiCarlo comes to Indiana by way of Athens, Georgia. She graduated from the University of Georgia in 2020 with a degree in Journalism and certificates in New Media and Sustainability. She has radio experience from her time as associate producer of Athens News Matters, the flagship public affairs program at WUGA-FM.