County is poised to close on former VNA building

The county-engineered $1.6 million purchase of the vacant building will provide a home for the Center for Living.

The Center For Living plans to occupy the majority of the old VNA building's first floor. — Photo by Sam Moore

Barring any last-minute impediments, Dukes County is expected to officially own the former Vineyard Nursing Association (VNA) building on Breakdown Lane in Tisbury by the end of March. The $1.6 million purchase is funded by taxpayers in the six Island towns.

Once the purchase is complete, county officials expect to sign a lease with the Martha’s Vineyard Center for Living (CFL), which serves frail and elderly Island residents, including those with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, in a supportive day program, and provides other social services. The center currently uses borrowed space, which limits the services and the number of people it can serve.

The CFL plans to renovate almost 5,000 feet of the 7,494-square-foot building, now formally referred to as the Martha’s Vineyard Senior Services building, prior to moving into its new home. County officials have not yet formulated a plan for the use of the remainder of the building. County Commission chairman Christine Todd said that there have been many discussions, but no plans, about who exactly would fill the space not used by the CFL.

The building is owned by the Edgartown National Bank, which took the property in lieu of foreclosure at a listed sale price of $1,155,000, after the VNA ceased operations in March 2014.

The building will be purchased with a 10-year, $1.6 million bond issued by Dukes County, and will include $200,000 to be used for repairs and renovations. The county signs off on the bond on March 7.

Lesson in patience

CFL director Leslie Clapp said the process has been a lesson in patience. But the move, which she hopes will take place later this year, will consolidate not only space for their programs, but also the resources needed to run the programs. Currently, the CFL operates its programs, including its four-day-a-week supportive day program, out of two locations — The Anchors in Edgartown and the Tisbury Senior Center.

“We have to have duplicate supplies,” Ms. Clapp said in a phone conversation with The Times. “Double everything, basically, and even then, sometimes we’ll be in Vineyard Haven and realize that what we need is in Edgartown.”

This can create confusion for both clients and staff, she said, describing it as a “huge problem.” The central location will ease planning and scheduling.

Another plus is that the CFL will be able to customize their space. The county will pay for basic renovations to the building, but the CFL will use part of a $1 million bequest from Margaret Yates, who died last summer, to make additional updates to the space.

“The senior centers have been most generous and accommodating, but they’re not designed for our kind of program,” Ms. Clapp said.

CFL-funded changes include installing sprinklers and alarms on doors. The CFL is concerned with making the building more friendly to patrons with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. The county plans to insulate the roof, install doors, put in two windows, and build a third handicap bathroom.

“I can’t really project when we’ll be in the building, but we do have a design person and an architect that we’re working with to do the renovations and make it a really user-friendly space for our clientele — a therapeutic environment, so to speak, for people with disabilities and memory loss,” Ms. Clapp said. “So that’s already in the works, so we’ll be ready when we get the go-ahead.”

With space consolidated and more permanent, Ms. Clapp hopes that the CFL can expand its programs, including whom it serves, how it serves them, and how often.

“I think there’s a lot of people we can reach out to and serve better. Not just in the building, but I think there’s a lot of community education and outreach that we could be doing if we had space that we knew we could accommodate people with,” she said.

This could likely include, further down the road, expanding the day program to full-time.

Overriding the RFP process

The date of the CFL move has yet to be determined. If the county closes on the purchase during the third week of March, as planned, county manager Martina Thornton is still bound to follow municipal procedures related to leasing space to outside parties.

The county must issue a request for proposals (RFP) to use the building; it is also required to ask Tisbury officials if they have space needs that the building could accommodate. To avoid delays, Ms. Thornton has sought a legal exception to the RFP requirement through the legislative process. “We’re still working on trying to get a waiver for that,” Ms. Clapp said. “I don’t know if that’s going to come through in a timely manner.”

The process is progressing gradually, she said. She hopes that if all goes well, the CFL could be in the new space by the end of the calendar year.

“It’s moving,” Ms. Clapp said. “It’s just one of those processes that takes way longer than any of us wanted to.”