Sullivan County nursing home discussions at a standstill

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 4/27/2021 9:41:58 PM
Modified: 4/27/2021 9:41:56 PM

UNITY — The future of a proposed $54 million renovation of the Sullivan County nursing home is uncertain following a meeting of the county delegation that recessed without an up or down vote on the project.

“Right now we are divided,” state Rep. John Cloutier, D-Claremont, the delegation’s chairman, said Tuesday.

He said recessing Monday evening’s meeting, which was held in person in Newport and via Zoom, “was the only way to sort of end it. We’re just at loggerheads.” No date was set to take up the matter again.

To move forward in one direction or another, the 13-member body needs a two-thirds majority vote, or nine votes, Cloutier said.

As of Tuesday, he said, “we just don’t have the votes.”

County officials have said the renovation is necessary to address the aging infrastructure of the 156-bed facility, which sits in Unity next to the county jail. As proposed, the project would include gutting the nursing home’s Stearns building, making aesthetic improvements to the MacConnell building and demolishing the Sanders building to clear space for an 82,000-square-foot addition. The Sanders building was constructed in 1931, Stearns in 1975 and MacConnell in 1997.

During Monday’s meeting, the chairwoman of the delegation’s Executive Finance Committee, state Rep. Suzanne Gottling, D-Sunapee, tried to obtain the two-thirds majority required for her motion to defer funding on the project.

The deferment would allow for more time to ensure that the scope, size and cost of the project is “within reach of all of our taxpayers,” Gottling said in a video recording of the meeting. The deferment had gotten the support of Gottling’s committee in a 4-1 vote at a meeting last Friday, she said.

But a move on Monday to vote on the actual measure was 7-6, falling short of the 9 votes required,

The sole dissenting vote on the Executive Finance Committee, Rep. Judy Aron, R-South Acworth, attempted to amend Gottling’s motion on Monday by instead asking members of the delegation to approve a bond of $35 million for the project and aiming to cover the remaining cost of the project through the county’s capital reserves and federal grants.

“My question to the delegation is what do we gain by waiting six months?” Aron said. “Will this project be any less expensive in six months? I doubt it.”

But Cloutier blocked Aron’s effort by saying her amendment was “totally against the intent of the motion from Gottling.”

State Rep. Linda Tanner, D-Georges Mills, backed Gottling’s motion and questioned whether the county would be able to use grant funds for COVID-19 relief toward the nursing home project and whether now is the right time for the county to tackle a project of this scale, given the economic effects of the pandemic.

“It’s time to take a look at this project in terms of needs, not wants, (and) make some compromises,” Tanner said.

The project, which has been in the works for several years, has been designed carefully, taking into consideration the county’s demographics and health care needs, said County Manager Derek Ferland in a Tuesday phone interview.

“There’s nothing in that project that’s a ‘want,’ ” he said. “There’s been a lot of thought that’s gone into this.”

He said the county has already put about $1.5 million into designing the renovation project, which at this point is stalled.

“I think it’s safe to say that at this point, it can’t go forward,” he said. “Not without having another public hearing.”

The deadline to join the July municipal bond sale is April 30, so the county will miss that, he said.

The delegation rejected the project in September, when it was expected to cost $49 million, by a vote of 11-1, in part out of a preference for a new facility. But, this winter officials told the delegation a new facility would likely cost more.

Cloutier said on Tuesday that he could call the delegation back at any time, but he doesn’t plan to do so for at least a few weeks.

“I think it’s foolish to take this up again unless we have the nine votes to do it,” he said.

Also on Monday, the delegation unanimously approved a $1.1 million bond for the county’s sober housing project in Claremont.

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

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