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Delegation fails to pass old nursing home plan

April 19, 2012
OSSIPEE — It was almost certain what the future would hold for the old county nursing home. Almost. However, the county delegation failed to approve a plan by the required two-thirds majority vote on Monday, April 16, so for now, the old home will not be renovated or demolished.

The delegation subcommittee was charged with coming up with a million dollar plan for renovation and/or demolition of the old home. They were then asked to present their recommendation to the full delegation meeting, which they did on April 16.

The 14-member county delegation is made up of the state representatives elected in Carroll County. At the county level, they are charged with setting the annual budget for the county and approving capital expenditures. Since the cost to renovate the old nursing home is set to be paid for out of the estimated $3 million surplus from the new nursing home construction, the money has to be approved by a two-thirds vote of the delegation.

The nursing home subcommittee members are Mark McConkey (R-Freedom), Harry Merrow (R-Ossipee), Frank McCarthy (R-Conway), Steve Schmidt (R-Wolfeboro), Karen Umberger (R-Conway), and Laurie Pettengill (R-Bartlett). That group negotiated a plan that only Schmidt voted against at their April 9 meeting.

That plan, with a cost of $980,000 called for the demolition of the four wings and the work needed to patch up the holes left in the core building once those are torn off. The front of the core that once housed the home's administrative offices and entry way would also be torn off and a new façade put on the building. The plan also includes reroofing the core and making interior improvements to restructure the laundry area and maintenance and storage area. In addition to those services that will be housed in the old home, there is also the pellet boiler room and an additional 3,000 square feet of open space that could be renovated at a later date to accommodate a tenant.

Additionally, the committee recommended starting with the renovation first, delaying any demolition until at least October. They were willing to compromise, giving the county commissioners six months to negotiate and enter into firm contracts with possible tenants who want to lease space in the old home. But, if the commissioners could not get signed agreements in six months to show cause why demolition should not occur, that demolition would begin immediately.

The subcommittee agreed on Oct. 15 as the deadline after Schmidt pushed for a "date certain."

"I don't want have anybody coming back three months from now on a maybe. I think we just need to do this. I think enough time has gone by. I think our recommendation as defined is a good one. I think we should vote. I think we should make it happen and let's go forward," said Schmidt.

By the time the fate of the old home came to a vote at the delegation meeting April 16, the subcommittee's recommendation had been amended, moving the date for rental agreements up to Oct. 1 and defining that no demolition would occur before Oct. 30.

Three of the delegates were absent – Dino Scala (R-Wakefield), Pettengill, and Gene Chandler (R-Bartlett) – and to pass by two-thirds majority, it was decided that 10 of the 11 present had to vote yes. In the end, David Babson (R-Ossipee), David Knox (R-Wolfeboro), Betsey Patten (R-Moultonborough), and Joseph Fleck (R-Wakefield) voted against the plan while McCarthy, McConkey, Umberger, Merrow, Schmidt, Chris Ahlgren (R-Wolfeboro), and Norman Tregenza (R-Madison) voted in favor.

Prior to the vote, Umberger and McConkey asked their fellow delegates to respect the work the subcommittee had put into coming up with a plan and to vote in favor. "Please stay with the recommendation the subcommittee has worked tirelessly on," said McConkey. With the vote failing, at least one subcommittee member has no intention of starting that process all over again. "We had many discussions and arguments…I can guarantee that I am not going back and bringing a new proposal to you," said Umberger.

Commissioner David Sorensen said the county has up to two years to spend the leftover bond money from the new nursing home project and even though the delegation couldn't make a decision, the commissioners have no intention on stopping the pursuit of possible tenants for the old home. While there is no money approved to fix it up, he said, there is also no money approved to tear it down.

Commissioner Dorothy Solomon said she will continue her work exploring the possibility of the need and the funding available for converting a part of the old home into a homeless shelter for veterans. "We are winding down two wars with any number of people who are coming home, some jobless, some with mental health issues, or other issues. There is a need to do something. Do I think there are 650 homeless veterans in Carroll County? No. But there is a need," she said.

The general consensus of the delegation is to have the UNH Cooperative Extension – Carroll County division moved from their rental space in Conway Village to the old nursing home. Sorensen said the commissioners will continue to work through negotiations with that agency in hopes of making that move a reality. Currently, the county pays about $45,000 for the agency's rent and utilities in Conway, money Sorensen said could be kept by the County or used to offset a renovation loan the Extension could use to fix up the space they need to do business.

Initially, the renovation plan included an extra $300,000 for renovation of space for the Extension. According to Sorensen, Babson and Knox voted against the overall renovation plan, mainly because their fellow delegates refused to include that money in the overall plan. Fleck said he voted against the plan because of the demolition inclusion. "I am essentially reluctant to vote to tear down or vote to pay to demolish a perfectly useable public building," he said.

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