County again eyes downtown Claremont building for sober housing after additional funding secured

Valley News Correspondent
Published: 11/8/2019 9:25:03 PM
Modified: 11/8/2019 9:24:49 PM

CLAREMONT — A plan to convert a downtown building into a housing facility for those in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction will begin moving forward again with additional funding from the New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority and New Hampshire Community Loan Fund, according to Sullivan County Manager Derek Ferland.

Ferland said the housing authority has increased its funding from $800,000 to $1.2 million, and $1.1 million will be borrowed from the community loan fund. The rest of the money for the purchase and renovation of 19 Sullivan St., currently estimated to cost about $3 million, will come from a Community Development Block Grant ($500,000) and county funds ($500,000) in the current budget. The housing authority and loan fund money is contingent upon approval of the block grant.

In early October, the county decided to put the brakes on the project because of a potential commercial bank loan of as much as $1 million, which county officials said was too much of a burden for taxpayers to bear. While the community loan fund money must be repaid, Ferland said it will be over 40 years, which greatly reduces the annual debt payments.

Ferland said officials will now begin taking a closer look at the project costs for the “sober housing” facility, and he expects they will come down.

“We don’t have a fully developed design yet but will be working with the project team to finalize those details,” Ferland said in a news release. “As we do, assumptions and unknowns will become known, and we’ll have greater confidence in the final project cost.”

On Friday, Ferland said county officials are planning for 40 to 42 beds, of which 28 would be for men and 14 for women on the building’s second and third floors.

In the coming weeks and months, Ferland said they will finalize the plans, hold consultation meetings with the Planning Board and invite public comment. Construction work could begin about the middle of next year, he added.

The initial estimate to renovate the four-story building, known as the former longtime home of the Eagle Times newspaper, was about $2.5 million. When that number rose by a half-million dollars, the commissioners decided to halt any further consideration. The building sits just off Opera House Square, and the surrounding properties are mostly commercial. County officials have said a downtown location will be more beneficial to the residents of the facility because services and job opportunities are within walking distance. Two other locations, a Main Street property and the Junior Sports League building, were considered at one time but were eventually dropped.

The county has been working on developing a sober housing program for more than a year to help people re-enter society. Officials have frequently said it is the one key piece that is missing from the county’s efforts to help those with drug and alcohol convictions remain sober.

According to county statistics, more than 40% of those inmates who successfully complete the Department of Corrections’ Transitional Reentry and Inmate Life Skills Program (TRAILS) leave the jail with either unstable or no stable housing. This often leaves them with no choice except to return to the environment that got them into trouble in the first place.

The sober housing facility will be open to nonviolent offenders who have completed the TRAILS program and others in recovery who are outside the corrections system.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at pogclmt@gmail.com.




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