BOARDMAN – “Our plan is to renovate the space and transform it into a state-of-the-art autism center,” said Dr. Julie Knapp, executive director of the Knapp Center for Childhood Development, of her vision for the ‘Former Red Roof Property Inn on Tiffany South.
An affiliate of the center, Pennsylvania-based J2D2 Enterprises Inc., bought the 50,000-square-foot hotel for $5.2 million, and the plan, according to Knapp, is to expand the center’s services and bring them together under one roof.
The schedule is to open this fall, said Knapp, who is currently selecting architects and engineers for the renovation of the old hotel. A general contractor is already on board.
Exterior and interior works are planned, including all new windows and a new exterior look. Inside, work is planned to transform the individual rooms into large spaces “to form a large classroom or to form a gym, to form a cafeteria, that sort of thing,” Knapp said.
“Doing a kids’ library inside, play areas inside, (we) looking to have a play area outside…looking to add a lot of technology, so it’s all a badge to slide in and out of the building, but also on each floor to have this increased protection for our children.
New paint and flooring are also on the way, as are local art students painting murals, Knapp said.
The planned investment is approximately $1 million.
J2D2 Enterprises purchased the building from Boardman Hospitality LLC, which acquired the property in August 2018 for $2.2 million, according to the Mahoning County Auditor’s Office.
Red Roof Inn, which opened in August 1997, closed on April 14, according to a statement from Red Roof Corporate. It was operated by a franchisee who owns several other Red Roof properties, mostly in Michigan.
About 38,000 square feet of the building can be used as therapy space, Knapp said. The building’s property condition report states that it was well maintained, “everything is in good to excellent condition” and that its systems, such as the sprinkler system, are up to date.
“Everything in the building is functioning properly as it should,” Knapp said. “We just come in and renovate it to meet the needs of our autistic children.”
The Knapp Center for Childhood Development, an accredited behavioral health center of excellence, opened in October 2010. It operates in two buildings on Windham Court in Boardman which give the center approximately 13,000 square feet of space.
“I turned every nook and cranny I could find in this building into a therapy space,” said Knapp, a pediatric neuropsychologist, board-certified behavior analyst, and board-certified behavior analyst from Ohio. “We no longer have a conference room, we have split into offices, there are queues to get into the bathroom. We are just at full capacity.
The second building nearby helps, but the center’s services need to be combined into one space, Knapp said.
“When you have an autistic child who is non-verbal and may be having a behavioral episode, we need to have our response team get to that situation immediately, de-escalate it quickly, and make sure the child and staff are safe,” Knapp said, adding that having to come from another site and cross the street was not conducive.
Knapp said a search for a new site for years turned up nothing, so she redirected her thinking and started looking at hotels — they’re big enough to accommodate growth and provide enough bathrooms to train patients to the toilet.
Discussions with operator Red Roof began around February/March 2021.
The Knapp Center’s sister company, Absolute Behavior Health Care, will provide diagnostic, counseling, speech therapy and occupational therapy services.
“We currently provide diagnostics and counseling, but we’re going to expand those two programs because we have a waiting list of about six to seven months for diagnostics, and that’s not good enough for me,” Knapp said. “When a mother of a 2 year old calls and says my pediatrician told me to call you because my baby isn’t talking, I’m not going to tell that mother you have to wait seven months because I I can understand IT out. This baby doesn’t have seven months to wait, this baby needs… services immediately.
New are occupational therapy and speech therapy — the services families are looking for, Knapp said.
Knapp Center currently employs approximately 125 people. With the expansion, the center is looking to hire an additional 75 to 100 people, from counselors and maintenance to therapists, supervisors and office workers.
The move, she said, should reduce the waiting list for diagnostic and treatment services.
“Honestly, I don’t sleep well at night knowing we have the skills to help, but we don’t have the space to do it,” Knapp said. “It’s a small step in the right direction to overcome the problem of waiting lists.”