When Ed Winebarger heard that the space he leases for his business at the Patterson School could become a facility for delinquent teenagers, he was deeply troubled.
“If ... (it) comes in there, my small business goes away, because I don’t have anywhere else to go. All the people who have invested in their homes, that live there, those are their homes,” he said.
Winebarger, who uses the Patterson School’s commercial kitchen for his catering company, Earthworks Catering, was among several tenants who expressed worries about the Patterson School Foundation’s talks with Eckerd Connects.
Eckerd has expressed interest in leasing the Patterson School to operate a 40-bed residential program for boys ages 13-17 who have, according to a letter of intent from Eckerd, “exhibited delinquent behaviors in their home, school and community.”
Winebarger said that the possibility was disheartening.
“I’m not invited to participate in any of the dealings of the board. Everything is confidential. They meet in confidence and they discuss things in confidence, … and I have a feeling they’re just going to come to me and say, ‘We’ve made the choice. You’re done. Get out.’ And then I’ve got all these contracts to fulfill for the next 18 months with no way to perform those duties because of their decision,” he said. “So it’s troubling. I’m troubled right now, and I shouldn’t have to feel this way.”
Colleen Feeney, who also uses the kitchen for her bakery, Sweet Dreams, said she also was surprised by the news.
“I just started this business. It’s doing really well and I’ve been excited to grow it,” she said. The idea of having to stop and find another space “is definitely unsettling, it’s scary for any business owner. … I hope it doesn’t come to that.”
She said that so far she has been happy with the space, but she also understands why the Patterson School Foundation might lease the space to Eckerd.
“I can absolutely understand their desire to make this move because I think, especially after 2020 (and the effects of the pandemic), a lot of people are struggling with money,” she said.
But, she said, the decision could have “a snowball effect. It would help them out but it would also hurt a lot of people.”
But not all Patterson tenants oppose the possibility.
Rodney Raby, pastor of Patterson Reborn Community Church, said he sees it as an opportunity for his church to minister to boys who need a little extra help.
“I choose to believe on the positive side that it’s an opportunity, that we may be able to help young men be able to be a great part of the community,” he said. “I did mentoring over at Hibriten High School for several years and really enjoyed that.”
Raby said he has not heard whether his church would have to move if Eckerd comes.
“The board has not approached me and said anything to that nature,” he said. “I’m believing that we’d be able to stay at the campus at where we’re at and try to reach out and help the folks that are there and work with them in tandem. I hope and pray.”
Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute — which has 18 athletes housed in rooms at the Patterson School — released a statement saying that college officials are aware of the talks with Eckerd.
“We will continue to monitor those discussions and will assess housing options for our students as we do at the start of every academic year,” the statement said.
Reporter Kara Fohner can be reached at 828-610-8721.