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Officials set date for decision Sullivan County nursing home

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 4/14/2021 9:28:14 PM
Modified: 4/14/2021 9:28:12 PM

UNITY — The Sullivan County delegation has set a date later this month to make a decision on the fate of a proposed renovation of the county’s existing nursing home that is expected to cost $54 million.

Delegates set April 26 for the vote following a public hearing held in person in Newport, N.H., and via Zoom and Facebook Live on Tuesday evening.

Participants in the hearing, which included some current and former employees of the 156-bed facility that sits next to the county jail in Unity, expressed support for the project due to the nursing home’s aging infrastructure. Others noted the current low-interest rates even in the face of high costs of construction.

“The facility is at the point where it really needs the renovation to really meet the needs of the residents,” said Mike Petrin, a Claremont resident who serves as director of rehabilitation at the Unity facility, in a video recording of the meeting.

Petrin acknowledged the high price tag but said that further delays would only add to the cost.

“Now’s the time,” he said.

The delegation rejected the project, which then had an estimated price tag of $49.5 million, in September in a vote of 11-1, citing the uncertainties of the pandemic and the upcoming election. They asked county officials to consider constructing a new nursing home in another location, which Mary Bourque, the county’s director of facilities and operations, said in February would likely cost between $75 and $80 million.

The project now under consideration is unchanged from the one delegates rejected in September, except that the cost has likely risen 10% to $54 million due to increasing construction costs tied to both materials and labor, Bourque told the delegation on Tuesday.

As proposed, the project would include demolishing the Sanders building constructed in 1931, one of three buildings that comprise the nursing home. It also would renovate the Stearns building, which was built in the 1970s, and includes an 82,000-square-foot addition.

On top of upgrading the facility’s plumbing and electrical systems, which are prone to failures, the renovation also would increase privacy in residents’ rooms, giving each resident a window and reducing the number of residents sharing bathrooms from four to two, while also creating more common areas for residents to meet with their families and for group activities, Bourque said.

State Rep. Brian Sullivan, D-Grantham, asked county officials whether the benefits of low interest rates would outweigh the high construction costs.

“It seems that we ought to have an idea for whether (now) is the right time or not,” he said.

But County Manager Derek Ferland said such a calculation would be “firmly in crystal-ball territory” because he doesn’t know when interest rates might rise in the future or if construction costs will come down.

State Rep. Skip Rollins, R-Newport, who works at LaValley Building Supply and was the sole yes vote for the project in September, said that while he also cannot predict the future, he works with contractors who are scheduling jobs nine months to two years into the future.

“People are offering contractors anything they want,” Rollins said. “As long as we have the influx of people moving into the area our prices unfortunately are going to remain extremely high.”

Should the project move forward, the county plans to borrow between $35 million and $40 million from the New Hampshire Municipal Bond Bank for either a 25- or 29-year term, Ferland said. The county also is anticipating $8 million from the American Rescue Plan Act to put toward the project and to take another $5 million from its capital reserve fund, he said.

The delegation’s April 26 meeting and vote is scheduled to take place at 7:30 p.m.

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at or 603-727-3213.

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