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Greenwich Residents Praise Nursing Home Project

GREENWICH, Conn. – At a public hearing for nursing home’s “Project Renew,” Christine Edwards recalled the first time she walked into Nathaniel Witherell in 1976 to visit a friend’s grandmother and all her experiences since then.

High school classmates "were now together at the Witherell as if this was a reunion that they were enjoying with their friends, and felt there was always some place that they had to be together again when they could no longer be cared for in their own homes,” said Edwards, a real estate agent and member of the Greenwich Representative Town Meeting. “It’s something that has real longstanding value.”

The Board of Estimate & Taxation heard many similar stories from town representatives and community members Monday night at a hearing to determine whether it should approve the $22.5 million bonding resolution for the renovation project.

The facility needs to be structurally overhauled to meet health and building codes and the needs of its residents, according to Nathaniel Witherell’s director Allen Brown. The Board of Selectmen and the Planning and Zoning Board most recently approved the project, but it still has to pass muster with the BET and the Representative Town Meeting. Brown has stated he hopes work will begin by fall 2012 and be completed by 2015.

The great majority of people at the hearing were adamant for the project’s approval. As Selectman Drew Marzullo said, “This is an emotional issue, and that’s OK.” But some did not believe the project, as proposed, was fiscally responsible.

Bill Drake, chair of the Representative Town Meeting Budget Overview Committee, said the panel recommends a no vote on the bonding resolution and says this vote would “cause all responsible parties to work together to find a better future for and lessen the expense burden for Greenwich, freeze substantial capital for other projects, develop an ownership structure that’s more suited for a nursing to a nursing home.”

Renovations have been requested for Nathaniel Witherell since 2002, when a $45.5 million project to replace each building was rejected. Another $37 million plan was rejected by the state because of its cost. The state has agreed to pay for 55 percent of the new project.

The town would have to loan Witherell about $600,000 a year for the first three years of construction, after which the nursing home would reimburse the town and pay back any remaining costs of the project over the next 20 years.

“This is our last bite at the apple,” said Bob Richardson, Republican Town Committee member. “We’re not going to get another chance to turn Project Renew into a reality with the state’s financial conditions.”

Board of Estimate and Taxation chair Stephen Walko said the board plans to vote at its Nov. 17 meeting. The Representative Town Meeting will hear a presentation on the project Oct. 24 and will likely vote in December.

Town Democrat Ed Krumeich said the need has been established. “When I was involved in the project to save Parsonage Cottage I told everybody we have to build a facility because I have already picked out my room at Nathaniel Witherell,” said Krumeich. For people thinking of retiring out-of-state, "You better hope there is a board in that locality that is thinking of the long-term needs of the seniors and if not, come back, we’ll leave the light on for you.”

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