VNA building renovation inches along

Center for Living aims for autumn completion.

The former Vineyard Nursing Association building is owned by the county and will be the new home of the Center for Living, a nonprofit that serves clients with memory-loss. —Bill Chaisson

The Martha’s Vineyard Center for Living (MVCL) has asked for bids from three contractors to renovate the former Vineyard Nursing Association (VNA) building on Breakdown Lane in Tisbury. Leslie Clapp, MVCL executive director, told The Times in January that she hopes the project will be done by September. MVCL is a nonprofit that works with Islanders who have memory loss. Ms. Clapp said the total project price tag will be between $300,000 and $350,000.

MVCL retained Maxwell Architects of Somerville to design the remodel of the 7,600-square-foot building. Maxwell Architects specializes in designing facilities for memory-impaired seniors. Marc Maxwell, the firm’s founder, confirmed that no application for a building permit has been made for the project. Both he and Ms. Clapp said that a contractor has not been selected.

Center for Living’s mission

The MVCL serves elderly Islanders challenged with dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and other forms of memory loss. The organization currently operates from the Council on Aging facilities in Edgartown on Daggett Street (the Anchors) and in Tisbury on Pine Tree Road. Most of its operating budget comes from contributions from taxpayers in the six Island towns, a total of roughly $434,000 for fiscal 2016. An additional $100,000 comes from reimbursements, including payments made by Elder Services of Cape Cod and the Islands on behalf of low-income-qualified elders, plus out-of-pocket money paid by the families of elders who are not low-income-qualified, according to Ms. Clapp.

Current space and staff levels limit the number of elders MVCL can service to 18 per day. Many of those are shuttled to either of MVCL’s facilities via Lift vans provided through a contract with the VTA. Some are dropped off privately. Once the new facility is complete, Ms. Clapp said, in addition to offering a broader range of services, MVCL will be able to increase its capacity and offer services to approximately 25 elders per day.

The planned renovation

Town permit records show that the VNA made renovations to the building prior to a bank foreclosure that led to the building’s purchase by Dukes County. Ms. Clapp described the interior of the VNA building as a “web of little offices,” and said that some of those offices are windowless and undesirable. Ms. Clapp said that the partitions will not be removed, but openings will be made in the walls to allow light into the interior rooms. The kitchen will be opened to connect it with the dining room, and a third bathroom, Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)–compliant, will be added.

Eventually the MVCL plans to add an enclosed garden at one end of the building, she said. French doors might be installed to provide access, but according to Ms. Clapp, this aspect of the project may have to be reviewed by the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC), because it will displace five parking spaces.

The MVCL director said a sprinkler system is now being installed in the county-owned building. According to Ms. Clapp, neither the town of Tisbury nor any other government agency asked the MVCL to put in a sprinkler system. The MVCL opted to install the system out of concern for the safety of their elderly clients for whom the building is being redesigned. The cost of the sprinkler system is included in her estimate. She added that a $1 million bequest to VNA from Margaret Yates in 2015 will pay for the renovation. No capital funding from the towns will be needed for the work, she said.

Ms. Clapp said that after “long discussions,” MVCL and the county will leave an existing lift in its present location for access to the second floor by tenants (the county will offer rentals on that floor). Ms. Clapp said that her organization will work with upstairs tenants when they need to use it. Two stairways also access the second floor. These will be excluded from the MVCL floor plan to allow private access for second-floor tenants.

Federal rules distinguish a lift from an elevator in ADA standards. These regulations have changed since the VNA lift was installed, and it would be noncompliant if moved. It would be too expensive to build a new elevator or lift, so the old one will remain where it is.

County connection

After the Vineyard Nursing Association (VNA) failed in 2014 and went through a structured foreclosure of its headquarters, the Edgartown National Bank took title to the property. In March 2016, Dukes County used municipal bonds to buy the former VNA building from the bank for $1.4 million (March 2, 2016, “County is poised to close on former VNA building”). Another $200,000 in closing and other costs brought the final figure to $1.6 million.

The county intended to lease the building to the MVCL. It executed a lease with MVCL, effective July 1, 2016. The lease terms give MVCL the ground floor — more than 5,000 square feet — at the cost of the upkeep and operational expenses of the property. MVCL pays no actual rent to the county.

According to Dukes County manager Martina Thornton, it was at first unclear how much of the first floor the MVCL would need. But, she said, as the nonprofit’s planning proceeded, it became clear they were going to use all of it.

The second-floor office space was first offered to each of the six Island towns. This is a condition of the memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the towns that funded the purchase and the county government. The MOU was put in place following the decision to purchase the building made at town meetings across the Island in 2015. The MOU includes an agreement to have the county manage programs through for the towns, and, according to Ms. Thornton, to repay the bond used to purchase the VNA building.

As to the second-floor space, Ms. Thornton explained, “If any of the municipalities needed the [second floor] space, then they would be able to have it for less than market value.”

This offer of the space to the towns took precedence over state law because the MOU included the understanding that an agreement between the county and one of the towns for use of the space might be nonmonetary.

“The towns are contributing monetarily to the purchase of this building,” Ms. Thornton said. “So why shouldn’t they be allowed to use the space, if they want to?”

None of the towns expressed interest, so Chapter 34, Section 14, of Massachusetts General Laws was invoked. Under this law, space in the county-owned building must first be offered to the state and to the town government in which the parcel sits — in this case, both Tisbury and Oak Bluffs — before it goes on the open market.

Ms. Thornton said a draft letter that offers the second floor to the state for lease is under legal review. The letter will give the state 30 days to respond. Ms. Thornton does not expect the state to be a tenant.

The county intends to rent the second floor of the building, Ms. Thornton said. The rental proceeds from the second level will be used to offset the operating costs MVCL pays to the county. The MVCL does not pay rent because its budget is already funded by contributions from the towns.

“It doesn’t make sense for us to make money off the towns,” Ms. Thornton said. “So the Center for Living simply reimburses us for the expenses we have related to the upkeep of the building.”

Ms. Thornton said that until it’s complete, the first-floor renovation is likely to impede the second floor’s use as a rental. State procurement laws could make solicitation of potential second-floor renters a sluggish process. There must be a public hearing before a lease can be signed.