Washington County looks ahead after closure of Saint Catharine College
Nearly a year after the college shut down, Springfield and the larger region still are coming to terms with losing hundreds of employees and students.
SPRINGFIELD, Ky. (WDRB) – Gloria’s Wear & Tear Consignments was a destination for Saint Catharine College students. They came for the second-hand clothing and furniture for their dormitory rooms at the liberal arts school.
But business at Gloria’s has declined since Saint Catharine closed abruptly last summer, said Mary Riley, whose sister owns the store.
“We don’t have these young adults that are going to college now coming in here and buying anything because they’re gone somewhere else, “ she said. “It’s really put a bad impact on -- I think -- the whole town of Springfield.”
Nearly a year after Saint Catharine shut down, Springfield and the larger region still are coming to terms with losing hundreds of employees and students. Meanwhile, leaders are trying to find a new use for the 91-acre campus that sprawls along U.S. 150 northwest of town.
Washington County and Springfield coffers had taken in roughly $100,000 a year in occupational taxes from college employees in recent years, said John Settles, the county judge-executive. And there are other undetermined losses as well.
“Some scars have started to heal a little bit, but it’s still such an impact,” Settles said. He considers the economic fallout to be secondary to the impact on people’s lives.
There have been some potential buyers interested in the property, said David Hardy, managing director of real estate services company CBRE’s Louisville office. The firm has marketed the site since last summer.
Hardy said a “steady group of prospects” has shown interest in the campus, including potential buyers that would continue to use the property for education. He declined to elaborate.
“Obviously it’s much more of a turnkey environment for an education user,” Hardy said.
Local business expansion and other development projects have blunted the loss of Saint Catharine, keeping the area unemployment rate unchanged, said Daniel Carney, executive director of the Springfield-Washington County Economic Development Authority.
But he said the college was an incentive officials used while recruiting companies – and a unique draw for a small rural community. Washington County, about an hour south of Louisville, had an estimated population of 12,190 last year.
While there are some zoning restrictions on the land that could limit any future uses to schools and health-care facilities, Carney said a new owner could apply for a zoning change.
“Whatever the use may be, we’d just like to see it be a benefit to the region as it was before,” he said.
Those benefits extended beyond Washington County itself. To the south in Lebanon, Farmers National Bank looked to the college for its workforce, bank President Melissa L. Knight said. (The bank also was owed $1.5 million by the college when it closed.)
“They were a great source of employees for us, educated employees, and I think it’s a big loss to not just Washington (County) but the entire area, to Marion County as well,” she said. “So it’s devastating. I hope they can do something with the property.”
Back at Gloria’s in Springfield, Riley said it’s sometimes difficult to even drive by the campus. Once bustling, it’s now deserted.
“They’re just all gone,” she said. “It’s almost like when you down by there … it’s like a ghost town.”
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