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City senior housing center breaks ground

VERGENNES — About four dozen state, local and nonprofit officials on Monday morning joined Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) on Armory Lane for the groundbreaking ceremony of a long-awaited and — according to all — much needed senior housing and meeting center.
The $5.8 million, 25,000-square-foot building next to American Legion Post 14 and the Shaw’s Supermarket plaza will include a library and meeting and dining rooms. It will also host local senior lunches and provide a home for the area’s Meals on Wheels program.
According to Addison County Community Trust Director Terry McKnight, construction — which is already under way, including considerable foundation and wall work — should be complete by next March, with occupancy to follow shortly afterward.
“We’re coming along,” McKnight said. “It’s moving quickly.”
As for demand, 41 families have already put names on the waiting list for the 25 units. Vergennes officials have said and a Community Trust market study estimated that as many as 100 area residents will be interested in the city’s newest senior housing, the first to be built there since 36 apartments were established in the early 1980s on nearby Walker Avenue.
McKnight acknowledged that Vergennes is lobbying for more units. About five years ago principal project developer Housing Vermont bought an 11.93-acre parcel spanning Vergennes and Ferrisburgh; 6.5 of those acres are dedicated to this center. Housing Vermont is, and will remain, ACCT’s partner in developing and managing the project.
Another acre-plus has been set aside for a childcare center, and the remaining 4-plus acres could someday accommodate more senior housing, McKnight said.
“Certainly, Mayor (Michael) Daniels was there at the ceremony and asking can we have another, because we need it,” he said.
Of course, financing will be the key to building beyond the 25 units now under construction.
“We’re looking at that,” McKnight said. “We need to find a funding source.”
The current project relied heavily on two federal Housing and Urban Development grants, obtained with Sanders’ help. One came in at $380,000, and the other at $1.335 million.
In addition to the HUD awards, the project received funding from the Vermont Community Development Program ($500,000) and The Vermont Housing and Conservation Board ($300,000), plus a $425,000 federal HOME grant. Federal tax credits were also sold to private investors — principally local Vermont banks — to provide $3,275,000 of equity.
McKnight said obtaining additional HUD grants for a neighboring project would be unlikely, but a USDA Rural Development grant would be possible. The slightly smaller parcel could accommodate a building of the same size and scope, maybe even an identical one to save design costs.
“There’s plenty of room to put another large building, and maybe the same building to save money,” she said.
Meanwhile, the possible childcare center faces the same challenge. Middlebury’s Mary Johnson Children’s Center has eyed providing childcare in Vergennes for the better part of a decade, and has considered the Armory Lane site for several years.
McKnight said on Tuesday it remains on Mary Johnson leaders’ wish list.
“They were there yesterday and still want to be part of it,” he said. “They are looking for funding to make it possible.”
For now, McKnight said Addison County Community Trust and Housing Vermont officials are happy that an energy-efficient building is finally being built to serve Vergennes-area seniors after years of planning and waiting.
“We’re really excited to carry out our mission, to put people in homes, not to talk about it,” he said.
McKnight hopes to be able to create more projects to allow seniors to stay in their communities. Seniors want to stay, and their friends and families want them around, he said.
“They want their seniors to age in place in their towns,” he said. “If they stay, they continue to contribute.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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