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Peoria County moves to sell Heddington Oaks to UnityPoint Health

If a sale is approved by the Peoria County Board later this month, UnityPoint Health-Methodist plans to convert part of the former Heddington Oaks nursing home in West Peoria into a behavioral health center for children and adolescents.

The county board's finance audit and legislative affairs committee voted unanimously on Tuesday to allow the sale of the 16-acre property at 2223 W. Heading Ave., to Methodist for between $8 to $10 million, depending on the amount of state and federal funding that can be secured for the purchase.

County administrator Scott Sorrel said the sale funds, plus $7.5 million from the county general fund, would be used to pay down bond principal as the bonds are refinanced. About $37.2 million of principal remains on the $42 million bonds.

Sorrel said the down payment allows the original 2011 term of the bonds to remain in place. Without the $15.5 to $17.5 million cash deposit, the term of the new bonds would need to be extended out. He estimates the down payment will save Peoria County taxpayers around $19.3 million in interest payments.

The proposed deal also authorizes the county to reacquire 0.93 acres of land from the city of West Peoria for $41,000. The city had once intended to build a new city hall on the site.

County Board chairman Andrew Rand said it was a difficult decision to shut down the nursing home to stem its annual $2 to $3 million losses, and it's also difficult to dispose of the property for just $10 million. But he said it's likely the best outcome as the county seeks to move on.

"When we made that decision to stop the red ink, exit the business, we didn't know what we would be able to get for this," he said. "But the turnaround is we're going to be helped. We're going to help subsidize behavioral health in our community. And while not a core mission of our business, neither was Bel-Wood or Heddington. But that's the decision point we're at."

Rand said the restructuring also allows debt service payments to remain within the six cents to $100 of assessed value on property that Peoria County voters approved to support county-run nursing home services in 2003.

Committee chairman and county board vice chairman Jim Fennell agreed with Rand's assessment.

"People in our community that are going to be serviced by that facility, not through us, but at least someone is going to still be getting service throughout," Fennell said. "So it is a bitter pill to swallow. But I think it's best that we're going to be able to do."

Board member Jimmy Dillon represents the West Peoria area on the county board. He said the feedback he's heard on the new behavioral health facility is positive, so far.

"From the neighbors' standpoint, they're happy to see something go in there," he said.

In a statement, a UnityPoint Health-Methodist spokesperson said the healthcare organization looked forward to sharing more details about their plans for a "life-changing project" at the Heddington Oaks site following the potential approval of the sale at the March 10 Peoria County Board meeting.

Sorrel said UnityPoint likely won't use all the space available at first, but said there are plans in the works to eventually fully utilize it.

The 214-bed Heddington Oaks closed in 2020. Peoria County voters approved a sale of the property at the ballot box later that year.

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Corrected: March 2, 2022 at 11:23 AM CST
The next Peoria County Board meeting is on March 10, not March 11.
Tim is the News Director at WCBU Peoria Public Radio.