White River Junction assisted-living facility has new director

  • The assisted living and memory care facility The Village at White Junction sits between Northern Stage and the United Methodist Church in White River Junction, Vt., on Thursday, Oct. 18, 2018. The opening date has been pushed back to late November. (Valley News - August Frank) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. August Frank

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 6/17/2019 10:08:32 PM
Modified: 6/18/2019 11:28:46 AM

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION — A new director will take the reins this week of the 89-bed The Village at White River Junction, the $27 million assisted living and memory care facility on Gates Street.

The five-story facility, which opened in January, more than four months later than originally scheduled, is less than 25 percent occupied, though more residents are moving in and the owners say they have paid back a loan that came through the town. They also went to the town earlier this year to cut $50,000 from their tax bill, citing cash-flow problems then.

On the management side, Sandy Conrad has recently left the post of director at The Village, which is managed by the Des Moines, Iowa-based Life Care Services, which runs senior living communities throughout the country.

Conrad will be replaced by Jodi Egger, who has experience at other assisted-living facilities around the country, and is set to arrive at The Village, which is located between Northern Stage and the Methodist church, this week.

This is not Egger’s first introduction to The Village, Brooke Ciardelli, one of the managing owners of the property, said. Egger has assisted with sales and marketing for the past few months, Ciardelli said.

“She’s a rock star,” Ciardelli said of Egger, who has worked for Life Care Services for about four years and with seniors for 15.

After a slow start this winter, the facility will have 24 residents by the end of June, Ciardelli, a Norwich resident who was the founding artistic director of Northern Stage, said. The Village currently has 30 employees, she said.

Prices range from about $8,500 to $10,500 per month, Ciardelli said.

Conrad told the Vermont Community Development Board in November that they needed to fill 49 of the 80 units in the building to break even and that they anticipate being at full capacity in February of 2020, according to minutes of the board’s review of Hartford’s application for a loan to support the project.

Resident Jon Appleton, a retired Dartmouth College professor, who recently returned to the Upper Valley after five years in Hawaii, said in the three weeks he’s lived at The Village he’s seen six residents. That does not include those who may be living in memory care.

Though he got a letter from Ciardelli and her fellow managing owner Byron Hathorn saying that they expected new residents to be moving in weekly, Appleton said, “I haven’t seen them.”

Ciardelli and Hathorn appeared before the Hartford Board of Abatement in March to request a property tax abatement on The Village property because construction delays meant that they “ran short of cash,” according to minutes of the March 25 meeting.

After some discussion, including concerns from board members about whether approving an abatement on this property would set a precedent for other business owners for the future, the board approved a $50,000 abatement on the principal owed to the town. The $50,000 abatement is equivalent to 13.6% of the total tax bill for the property of $368,996 for fiscal year 2019. The property is assessed at a value of $18.9 million.

As of earlier this month, The Village has paid off the remaining $145,568, which included penalties and interest, according to Town Manager Brannon Godfrey.

Ciardelli also said The Village has used a portion of the $750,000 Community Development Block Grant that the Vermont Community Development Board awarded to the town of Hartford for the project last November. Though the loan has been “critical” to getting the project off its feet, Ciardelli said they don’t plan to utilize any more of the available funds and they have paid off what they used.

In general, she said grants and the associated reporting requirements are “a lot of work.”

Efforts last week to reach Hartford Planning Director Lori Hirshfield, who was in charge of administering the grant, were unsuccessful.

On Monday, Nathan Cleveland, a community development specialist for the Vermont Community Development Program, said that Hirshfield had told state officials that The Village has paid off the approximately $280,000 that the business used. State officials have not yet confirmed the payment, he said.

For her part, Egger, the incoming director and a Tampa, Fla., resident who will be house-hunting in the Upper Valley with her 10-year-old daughter, said she fell in love with the region and the team at The Village.

“When the opportunity arose, it was just good timing,” Egger said.

The directorship will give Egger, who holds a bachelor’s degree in communication from the University of South Florida in Tampa, the chance to spend more time with her daughter, who lost her father recently and is excited to take up skiing.

In terms of her approach to leading the Village, Egger said she plans to ensure that the residents come first.

“Whatever we need to do to make that happen is what we’ll do,” she said.

As for Conrad, Ciardelli said Life Care Services, which works for the owners through a management contract, is working with Conrad to find a better fit.

There are “options for her within the company to work with a community that’s been established,” Ciardelli said.

Conrad, reached by email this week, declined to comment and directed questions to Life Care.

Tony Sanford, Life Care Services director of operations management, in an email declined to comment on Conrad’s departure, citing the company’s protocol not to comment on internal employee matters.

Ciardelli said that Conrad, who is the Royalton Selectboard chairwoman and according to LinkedIn holds a master’s degree in social work and previously served as executive director of the Southwestern Vermont Council on Aging, had experience on the health care side of things and was “incredibly warm and open-hearted to residents.”

Conrad, however, lacked experience managing a facility of this kind, Ciardelli said.

She “hadn’t run a building before,” Ciardelli said.

The building is one of a handful of high-profile projects in downtown White River Junction.

Joan Ecker, the owner and designer of the Quechee-based Fat Hat Clothing, which has a Gates Street location, said she’s glad to have The Village nearby.

“It’s lovely,” Ecker, who has attended several events there that were open to the community, said. “It’s nice to have such a modern addition to the town.”

As more residents move in, however, Ecker said she is concerned that parking will become more difficult in the downtown. In addition, she said she has concerns about pedestrian safety and noted that residents with mobility challenges might find it difficult to access businesses that have stairs at the entrances.

“I am concerned about safety,” Ecker said.

But Hanover resident Skip Cook, whose 85-year-old father Ben moved into The Village in May, said his father, who uses a walker, has been able to go out and walk around the town with the assistance of an aide.

“It’s a pretty walking-friendly little town,” Skip Cook said.

The Village allows his father, who also has some hearing loss and dementia, to maintain his independence in daily activities such as showering, with help from staff in managing his medications and with the ability to call an attendant who is on call 24 hours a day, Cook said.

“It’s a nice set-up for people who need some assistance, but still are wanting to be active and engaged and busy doing things,” Cook said.

Though Cook said he was initially worried that parking would be a problem, he hasn’t found it to be.

When schedules work out, he takes Advance Transit from Hanover to a nearby stop on South Main Street, an easy walk from The Village, he said.

“So far I have not had any issue,” he said.

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at ndoyleburr@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.

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