High above Vockenhausen it towers, the former academy of the Sparkassenverband Hessen-Thüringen. Structurally, it is in excellent shape, only the building services are weakening. A penetrating beeping indicates a mistake that cannot be found at all, and therefore underscores the information evening, which forms the prelude to citizen participation. The city councillors decided in February that the area at the top of the forest should not be developed past the residents.

Andrea Diener

Correspondent in the Main-Taunus-Kreis

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Four possible scenarios were presented by the new owner of the site, GWH Wohnungsgesellschaft Hessen, and urban planner Torsten Becker from Frankfurt. Normally, Becker works for municipalities, the assignment by a real estate company is rather unusual for him. But the object is also so with its "Dalli-Dalli architecture", the hexagonal honeycombs that are stacked up the slope around a green courtyard.

Owner favors residential development

However, the building is full of challenges. Built in 1979, it served as a training center for the Sparkassenverband Hessen-Thüringen until the end of 2021. Inside, it's bright, with large windows and generous design, warm clay floor tiles, and charming architectural art. It has a mosaic-tiled swimming pool and a sauna, which unfortunately is now terribly tired, reports Becker, about gastronomy and a conference hotel. And around it stretch a whopping 50,000 square meters of well-kept green space including parking spaces.

It was not until April 2021 that he was informed that the savings bank wanted to close the center, reports Eppstein's mayor Alexander Simon (CDU). He had made it very clear that he did not like the procedure, because he expected the "owner to contact us". Therefore, they now want to do everything better, the GWH has already met three times with representatives of the city parliament in a working group and sounded out what the legal basis would look like. This is because the land use plan currently provides for a special area for education. For a residential development, it would have to be changed, and the procedure may well drag on, because then the regional association is also involved.

Nevertheless, GWH made it clear that evening that it favours residential development. This also suits her, because the development of residential areas, the construction and operation of apartments are her core business.

Grumblings in the audience

The first scenario, the continued operation of an educational institution of any kind, is not without hurdles. You would need an operator for an academy or a boarding school, but the situation is difficult in times of e-learning. In addition, there are the structural conditions, the 170 rooms are newly renovated, but very narrow. For a school building, the bathrooms per single room are not economical. There are some training rooms, but classrooms and sports field would have to be rebuilt. In addition, the design with the numerous exterior walls and the wide corridors and numerous foyers leads to a poor energy balance, not to mention accessibility.

Concrete skeleton buildings can be easily converted, but unfortunately this massively built academy with its idiosyncratic floor plan is not. Or, to put it as clearly as Torsten Becker: "You won't find an operator for this building."

The second scenario would be a hotel, possibly with wellness facilities, but even that would require a new building. Although the location is well suited for this, GWH's in-house project developers estimate the chances to be low. In addition, a hotel would bring some logistics traffic with it, which would be quite a burden for the residents over the narrow, steep streets. In addition, no one in Eppstein has anything of a luxury construction project.

An open space with demolition would be possible, but the city would have to acquire the property without ever drawing income from it again, which is rather unlikely.

So scenario four remains, a residential development, which caused a lot of grumblings in the audience. One fears more traffic and sees the area degenerate into an object of speculation. In his presentation, Managing Director Stefan Bürger made an honest effort to dispel the suspicion that GWH is real estate sharks that invade locust style. He pointed out that there was a lack of senior-friendly housing in Eppstein and that the last word was far from being spoken in terms of development. "We have the opportunity to develop something here for Eppstein."