Loyola parents, neighbors question treatment center plan for Good Counsel

May 25—More than 200 parents of Loyola students and neighbors near Good Counsel Hill largely opposed plans by Adult & Teen Challenge to open a drug and alcohol treatment center in part of the former School Sisters of Notre Dame campus.

Chris Dietzen, chairman of the board of Adult & Teen Challenge and a retired state Supreme Court justice, said at a public meeting Thursday that their plan is to house about 70 adult men on the campus as they go through inpatient treatment that would last from weeks up to 13 months.

"I believe in the work we are doing. We're saving lives," Dietzen said.

But much of the crowd attending the meeting at Madison East Center said having the facility next to Loyola School raises safety concerns.

"Putting a place like this next to a school doesn't make sense to a lot of us," said one attendee, getting claps and cheers from a large segment of the crowd.

But others said the treatment facility is needed and fits with the mission of the nuns who lived at Good Counsel for more than a century.

Mankato developer Mike Drummer and Adult & Teen Challenge have purchase agreements with the sisters for the sprawling property that until recently housed elderly nuns who have moved to a care facility in Shakopee.

Drummer plans to renovate the 100 apartment units the nuns lived in as affordable one-bedroom apartments that would rent for about $600 a month. But the deal hinges on Adult & Teen Challenge buying two buildings on the campus, one of which was an assisted-living facility for the nuns.

Drummer, who hosted a previous community meeting on his plans, said he promised the nuns he'd preserve the campus as much as possible. While his plans generally drew support, the treatment facility faces backlash.

Dietzen said they have seven facilities around Minnesota that serve teens, men and women. He said that in their 35 years serving 24,000 clients they've never had an issue with a client assaulting a member of the public.

The facilities are faith based and have strict rules and requirements for clients. Dieitzen said background checks are done on all potential clients and no one with a sexual assault charge or conviction or other violent offense would be accepted in the Mankato facility.

He said clients have a very structured life from the time they wake up at 6 a.m. until they go to bed at 10 p.m. and said all doors would have alarms and that video cameras would be installed inside and outside.

Dietzen said clients are there voluntarily and can leave the program if they wish and said those who violate rules can be expelled.

As the largest treatment program in the state, they consistently get top marks from independent agencies, he said, and have the highest success rate of anyone with 80% of clients remaining sober after six months.

"We are considered the gold standard," Dietzen said.

He said they have one staff member per 10 clients during day hours.

One man in the crowd said Good Counsel was an "ideal location" for the treatment center and said it's a "hospital-like" facility. "You'd be the best neighbor you could get."

But others in the crowd raised a variety of concerns over safety.

Ultimately the Mankato City Council will decide whether to zone the property for redevelopment by Drummer and whether to approve the plans by Adult & Teen Challenge to open a treatment facility.

That process is likely to take place late this summer and fall.