Gwinn man has plans for orphanage

MARQUETTE – A Gwinn man wants to turn the abandoned Holy Family Orphanage into a transitional facility for homeless veterans.

Larry Stille is eyeing the former orphanage, located at Altamont and Fisher streets, for a place to house 68 to 70 residents. He said his original idea was to turn it into low-income housing. However, Stille said he spoke with Veterans Administrations staff in Iron Mountain, who suggested the building be turned into a place for homeless vets.

That struck a chord with Stille.

“That sounds like a pretty good idea, because I’m a vet myself,” said Stille, who served in the Navy from 1981 to 1985. “I used to be homeless.”

Stille said the orphanage is owned by Meranto Living Trust in Las Vegas. Although he has been told the dilapidated building has no monetary value, it has been estimated it would cost between $5 million and $10 million to renovate it into a veterans home, he said.

For example, Stille said the roof would need to be replaced and the entire building gutted, essentially starting from scratch.

According to city documents, the structure was built in 1915 and has been vacant since 1981. The building has been found to have asbestos-containing materials, lead-based paint and mold.

The city of Marquette and the Marquette County Land Bank Authority in 2012 requested $1 million from the Michigan Blight Elimination Program but did not receive the grant.

Stille said he hopes to start a nonprofit to raise funds for the project, and in doing so, prove to the community that “somebody really is doing something” with the building. He also plans to apply for a VA grant, which would cover up to 65 percent of the cost.

The project could be completed within three years, although Stille doesn’t have a definite timetable.

“It’s going to get done when it gets done,” he said.

Stille said his proposed home would offer a training program to help vets get back into the real world.

“It’s difficult,” he acknowledged. “Once you get in that rut of being homeless, and think there’s nothing out there, you get stuck.”

It’s Stille’s belief the home will help the vets get away from that line of thought.

“It’s just getting them in the right frame of mind,” he said.

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250.