County pitches purchase of VNA building to Edgartown selectmen

Martina Thornton. — Steve Myrick

Dukes County commissioners are exploring a regional purchase of the former Vineyard Nursing Association (VNA) building in Vineyard Haven to house the Martha’s Vineyard Center for Living. County manager Martina Thornton pitched the idea to receptive Edgartown selectmen at their regular Monday meeting.

The Center for Living is an Island-wide organization that offers care and services for residents aged 55 and over, including a supportive day program for frail elders, as well as Alzheimers and dementia patients. The organization currently provides most services on a reduced schedule of four days per week, using existing senior center facilities in Edgartown and Tisbury.

Edgartown selectmen offered strong support for the concept and asked Ms. Thornton to continue looking into costs, borrowing, and special legislation that may be required.

For the past year, county officials explored construction of a new building to house the Center for Living, but they shifted focus when the VNA ceased operations in March.

“Currently the building they renovated in Vineyard Haven by Holmes Hole Road is for sale,” Ms. Thornton wrote in a letter to Edgartown selectmen. “We have explored the potential for it to house the Center for Living and their board expressed interest if needed upgrades are done.” The upgrades include an additional bathroom for people with disabilities, and new windows, according to Ms. Thornton.

Ms. Thornton estimated the cost of the building and renovations at approximately $1.6 million. Financing is still to be worked out, but Ms. Thornton said the towns would have to provide the money.

The building’s nearly 7,500 square feet of space exceeds the current space needs of the Center for Living. Ms. Thornton said some of the space could be rented to offset the cost of operations, and still leave room for the organization to expand as the aging population grows in the coming years.

“This seems like a good deal to us, but of course the county does not have the money to purchase it,” Ms. Thornton said.

If the county purchases the building, with support from the Island towns, it would require a special act of the state legislature to arrange borrowing, a process that could take at least six months.

“I think it’s a really good idea: we’ve been looking for a long time for a place to house the Center for Living,” Art Smadbeck, chairman of the board of selectmen, said. “It’s not fortunate for the Island that we lost the VNA, but it’s fortunate that we have a building that meets the needs.”

Selectmen Margaret Serpa and Michael Donaroma also offered support for the concept.