Decatur talking with United Methodist Children’s Home about purchase of UMCH campus
This story has been updated.
The United Methodist Children’s Home is in talks with the city of Decatur about the city purchasing the 77-acre UMCH campus on South Columbia Drive.
Mayor Patti Garrett announced the news during her State of the City speech on Tuesday, Jan 24. A representative of the home confirmed the news to Decaturish after the speech.
“We are in conversations, correct,” UMCH Vice President John Cerniglia said.
Last week the UMCH board voted to sell the property but a buyer had not been identified. The city of Decatur has long expressed an interest in buying the property as additional green space for the city.
Garrett said, “We view this as an amazing opportunity for the city and for preserving the legacy of the United Methodist Children’s Home.”
The Children’s Home has been in Decatur since 1873 and was established to care for children orphaned during the Civil War.
The move by the board to sell the property caused considerable angst among alumni of the orphanage and neighbors who feared a massive development would replace the historic site. According to former UMCH residents who attended an input meeting, one potential plan for the property includes 600 homes. A tiny portion of the property is in city limits, but the bulk of it is not. The city of Decatur had previously put the UMCH property in its annexation plans.
Garrett said if the city were to purchase the property it would develop a long-term master plan for its use.
“We envision being able to make the fields, pool and gymnasium a part of our Active Living Department,” she said, adding later, “We would have the opportunity to preserve environmental resources and natural habitat.”
The property value is estimated to be somewhere north of $30 million. The board is selling the property to expand the nonprofit’s mission of helping children and families in crisis.
Cerniglia said there are 12 families on campus that include 60 at-risk children and parents, 20 single teens and young adults, and seven young adults in apartments throughout the metro area. At its peak in the 1950s, UMCH served 160 children. UMCH also has another 115 children in foster care in 40 counties.
Garrett said UMCH gave her the OK to announce the news about the negotiations during her speech.
“They are aware that I would be letting you know this evening and knew that I was going to tell you we are in conversations and we are interested in the property. That is really exciting news,” she said.
Her announcement received a round of applause from the audience.