By JOHN FLOWERS
SALISBURY — Faced with mounting expenses, soaring fuel bills, lower client rolls and the prospect of major new competition, Shard Villa — one of the oldest and most historically significant senior care facilities in Vermont — will likely close its doors this November.
While the Shard Villa board of directors plans to keep the ornate, 130-year-old mansion and its spectacular Italian wall murals open to the public, the senior care component of the estate — barring a quick, major infusion of cash — will cease operation this fall after an almost 90-year run. That portends a potentially traumatic uprooting for more than a dozen current Shard Villa residents (most of whom are in their 90s) and layoffs for the 14 full- and part-time workers at the facility.
“It is a decision that has been a long-time coming, and not an easy one to make,” said Shard Villa board President Diane Benware. “But it does not seem economically feasible to continue.”
While the board has not yet formally voted to close Shard Villa’s elder care operation, it is taking steps that would lead toward ending that service on Nov. 1. Those steps include notifying the state of Vermont and securing permission through Addison County Probate Court, which is responsible for enforcing the execution of wills.
Columbus Smith built Shard Villa in 1872-74. He and his wife Harriett began taking in elders in 1919, then the family formally launched the senior care facility in an L-shaped addition built in 1922 — a service they sought to perpetuate through their respective wills. Shard Villa leaders will have to convince a probate court judge that financial hardship now makes the senior care operation untenable.
Officials vowed to work with families to find new accommodations for current Shard Villa residents. They also promised to work with staff to line up new jobs.
By KATHRYN FLAGG
SALISBURY — Collin Tompkins was one of the first out of the old Lund boat, springing onto the narrow dock while the 16-foot craft shimmied up alongside its moorings.
He, like the other three young men in the boat, was damp and smiling. It was a game of back and forth for a little while, and the four men, their wetsuits slung down to mid-waist, looked like they’ve done this a hundred times. Someone secured the boat. Another hoisted their dripping scuba equipment into a deep wheelbarrow.
And among the last items unloaded onto the dock, and then piled into the wheelbarrow, were several mesh bags filled with heavy, wet weeds — Eurasian watermilfoil, the invasive species this team of young divers is at work carefully plucking from Lake Dunmore’s lakebed.
Tompkins, 22, Nate Bierschenk, 19, Derek LaRosee, 19, and Will Pitkin, 17, are the specially trained corps of divers that make up the Lake Dunmore/Fern Lake Association (LDFLA) Milfoil Project. They’re charged with keeping the milfoil problem in Lake Dunmore and Fern Lake — Dunmore’s little sister — in check.
But in addition to serving as lake watch guards, these divers also happen to be a friendly gaggle of students — boys happy with a summer job that puts them on the lake, in the water and among good company.
“It’s a nice way to be on the lake all summer and help out,” said Bierschenk, whose family owns a house on Dunmore.
It’s a remarkable team, in large part because Tompkins, Bierschenk, Pitkin and LaRosee — and the “Lake System Monitors” who have staffed the project in previous summers — demonstrate that it is possible to control milfoil in an environmentally friendly way, without chemicals, herbicides or lumbering, expensive mechanical harvesters.