Nursing home proposal rejected

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 9/27/2020 8:51:52 PM
Modified: 9/27/2020 8:51:51 PM

UNITY — The Sullivan County delegation has rejected a proposed $49 million renovation to the county’s decades-old 156-bed nursing home.

The delegation, which met in person Friday in the county administration building in Newport and via video chat and telephone, rejected the proposal in a vote of 11-1.

State Rep. Skip Rollins, R-Newport, entered the sole ‘no’ vote.

In rejecting the proposal, state Rep. Judy Aron, R-Acworth, said her constituents “feel that the economic atmosphere right now is not conducive to raising the kind of tax that we would need. They would very much prefer a new facility.”

The nursing home at the county complex in Unity has aging infrastructure, including mechanical, heating and plumbing systems, which is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain, officials have said. The Sanders building was built in 1931, Stearns in 1975 and McConnell in 1997.

But the cost for the proposed renovation, which would have included gutting the Stearns building, making aesthetic improvements to the McConnell building and demolishing the Sanders building to clear space for an 82,000-square-foot addition, came in 20% higher than county officials had initially expected.

The higher cost was due to new state and federal standards that require more space to better accommodate wheelchairs and lifts for residents.

During the meeting, other lawmakers who comprise the delegation echoed Aron’s concerns about taking on a project of this scale during the COVID-19 pandemic and just before an election. For his part, Rollins said he wanted to move forward with the renovation because the price was locked in. He said prices for construction materials may increase in the future.

“This is the best bet,” he said. “The only bet that I’m going to go with.”

Instead of moving forward with the renovation, the delegation asked county officials to investigate what it might cost to build a new building on the county land in Unity, as well as on other sites elsewhere that have yet to be identified.

County officials had previously estimated that a new nursing home in Unity would cost somewhere between $62 million and $67 million, but said they needed to study the site further to really pin down the cost.

State Rep. Walter Stapleton, R-Claremont, said he supported moving forward with plans to construct a new building on the Unity campus, noting that the campus is home to the county’s biomass plant. County Commissioner Jeffrey Barrette also noted that the nursing home currently relies on some labor from inmates in the nearby jail.

But some other members of the delegation indicated a preference for exploring other sites, such as somewhere near Valley Regional Hospital in Claremont.

“I think it would be prudent to explore all options,” said state Rep. Brian Sullivan, D-Grantham. “The Unity campus as we all know is a little off the beaten road.”

County Commissioner Bennie Nelson asked the delegation not to punt decisions about the nursing home’s future too far down the road.

“While we do all this homework, there are 135 or (140) souls who’ve paid Medicaid and Medicare taxes understanding they would have a safe, comfortable spot for their later years,” Nelson said. “They’re constituents; they’re taxpayers and I don’t think we want to dither for too long.”

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

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