NEWPORT — Sullivan County officials are ceasing their plan to turn the old Eagle Times building in downtown Claremont into a sober housing facility, after being unable to find additional funding to complete the project.
County Manager Derek Ferland told the Board of Commissioners yesterday that the county has been unable to find enough grant funding opportunities to cover the cost of the project, which would transform the former Times building of 19 Sullivan St. for a low-cost, substance-free residence for graduates of the Transitional Reentry and Inmate Life Skills (TRAILS) program.
The project sought to provide temporary housing and transitional services to inmates who are returning to the community but lack a safe living environment conducive to staying clean and sober, as well as to members of the community seeking sober living.
Ferland said that even with the county’s own funds of $500,000 and applications for grant funds from CDBG and New Hampshire Housing, the county would still fall short of its goal.
Additionally, a second consult from Milestone Engineering & Construction, of Concord, estimated the project cost around $3.1 million, at least $600,000 higher than the previous estimate of $2.5 million.
“It doesn’t seem like [the project] is going to happen,” Ferland said. “I think it’s going to leave us with an unsustainable debt load and put too much pressure on our monthly revenues to service it.”
Ferland recommended for the time being, the county “takes a step back” and see what happens with the multi-municipality lawsuit against the pharmaceutical companies, which Sullivan County joined in June 2018.
While hopeful that the suit might bring money to the county for its substance prevention and treatment programs, Ferland does not know when that case might end. Moreover, even if the case goes in the plaintiffs’ favor, it is unclear how much money Sullivan County might receive, or if it receives anything. New Hampshire is one of three states in which the state attorney general would oversee the use of moneys received from legal settlement.
“There’s no guarantee that the money would even trickle down to the counties,” Ferland said.
The county looked at possibly building in phases, such as adding only one floor of residential space at first but determined it’s not feasible.
“If we didn’t do a whole floor [at first] that means less revenue, because we can only accommodate males or females if only one floor,” Ferland said.
The county will terminate its contract option to purchase 19 Sullivan St., rather than continuing to put money down to extend it.
“I know the ongoing carrying costs on that option are not a lot, but without knowing what [funding] for programs will look like in the near future, I think [holding onto the option] would be a foolish bet,” said County Commissioner Jeff Barrett.
Though disappointed about having to halt plans, the officials agreed that progress was made.
“Our investment at this point has not been a lot of money, and a bit of time,” Barrett said. “Failure would have been getting down the road and realizing we couldn’t service the debt, going to the taxpayers and saying that we made a $100,000 per year mistake. To me, this was not a failure.”
County Superintendent Dave Berry said that they completed much of the groundwork, from project development to community outreach and education, and will be well-prepared when ready to resume the process.
“There’s probably more awareness in the community about the need and the concern,” Barrett said. “And I think we’ve tried to address all of it. We will pick it up again.”