The Block Island Times

Cost of refurbishing doctor's house: $925k

By Lily O'Gara | Jul 18, 2014
Photo by: Kari Curtis

A list of several weighty agenda items made for a packed Town Council meeting on Wednesday, July 16. Members of the council, several committees and the public alike discussed the Block Island Health Services doctor search and housing plans, among other things.

Members of the Block Island Health Services Doctor’s Residence Committee and Town Manager Nancy Dodge presented preliminary plans for the refurbishment of the doctor’s house, which is located adjacent to the medical center. Dodge said current plans are to allocate a three-bedroom residence for the doctor on the first floor, with a two-bedroom apartment for summer medical students on the second floor and an option for more bedrooms on the third. She stressed that the plans are designed with flexibility in mind, as no one is sure as to what the future doctor’s needs might be. The number of rooms and their locations are not “set in stone,” as committee member Herman Mast said. It was clear to the committee, though, that quality is key.

“We’re unlikely to attract a first-rate physician with second-rate living conditions,” Mast said.

Mast said the committee estimated that the project should cost about $925,000. According to Mast, the amount is based on both macro (per square foot) and micro (cost per task) estimates. The macro estimate was approximately $785,000 and the micro approximately $769,000, and Mast said that the committee proposed a contingency of plus or minus fourteen percent. The committee felt that $925,000 was a safe estimate for the project, and that Finance Director Amy Land said taxpayers could expect to be levied $32 per million dollars spent on the project, over a 20-year period.

The $925,000 should cover the entire project, which includes gutting the house and relocating and expanding the “L” in the rear of the house to the center. Solar electricity and hot water is also being considered. Mast said that the shell of the house will be maintained and that, even if windows and other items need to be replaced to meet housing code standards, replacements will reflect the architectural style of the house.

Assuming the bonding is approved in time, Mast said the committee hopes that construction will commence in February 2015 and be completed by April 30, 2016. The committee also recommended to the Town Council that Requests for Proposals for architects be sent out as soon as possible.

In the meantime, interim housing will have to be found for the doctor. Committee member and Town Councilor Ken Lacoste said that, although the committee hadn’t discussed this issue in great detail, he assumed the town would find temporary housing.

Island resident Arlene Tunney said that while she appreciated the committee’s work, she didn’t think that the new doctor would be comfortable living in a multi-unit house and that allowing the house to be constructed as such would require the installation of sprinklers and other safety measures. Mast and Dodge said that they would look into her suggestions.

Lacoste said that the island job description could likely attract a “unique” individual, who might not mind a few oddities.

“I think the fact that the town is going to such lengths to make the doctor feel welcome could go a long way,” Lacoste said.

Resident Ken Maxwell asked how the building cost would be split between the town and Block Island Health Services, and Councilor Norris Pike said that the town owned the house and would bond for the money. The doctor’s house, Pike said, will be handled and maintained like any other town property. First Warden Kim Gaffett agreed, and said there was “no change in philosophy.” The discussion was occurring, Gaffett said, because the bonds need to be put on the November referendum. In order for this to happen, she said, the language and financial estimates need to be finalized by the Aug. 4 Town Council meeting.

After the housing was discussed, Nancy Greenaway, a member of the Block Island Health Services Search Committee updated the audience as to the committee’s progress in securing a doctor candidate. The committee has posted advertisements online and around the community, created a webpage, and notified local hospitals of the available position. A summary sheet of the job package will also be distributed following committee review. As of yet, there are no viable candidates.

Bill McCombe, who is a member of the Block Island Health Services Board, asked if there was a plan B, should a doctor not be found in time for Dr. Miller’s departure in December. He suggested that the Board and the Town Council meet to discuss a backup plan.

“At the end of the day, it’s a partnership,” McCombe said. “This is a tough position to fill. I think the right person might come along, but we need to have a plan B in place.”

Pike said that he’d suggested such a plan in the past, which included contacting local hospitals or the Rhode Island Department of Health and asking that a rotation of doctors be assigned to the island. This could even run parallel to a permanent doctor, Pike said.

Town Clerk Molly Fitzpatrick urged everyone in the audience to press their family and friends for potential contacts.

“It’s a situation where we really have to think outside the box,” Fitzpatrick said. “It’s got to be a community effort.”

The Council also discussed converting the Town Hall’s solar electric system to have battery backup capability as part of the town’s Emergency Action Plan. It was also discussed whether RGGI grant money could be used towards the project, which Dodge said she would look into. Councilor Chris Warfel led the discussion. He said that, should widespread power outage occur, Block Island would be the state’s last priority in terms of repairs. The island needs to be prepared, Warfel said, for long-term outages. While generators are effective, Warfel admitted, there are still fuel and maintenance considerations. He said that no-maintenance batteries would cost around $5,000 each.

“I think it’s a great concept, based on the Rescue building,” Councilor Gary Ryan said, referring to the backup batteries the Rescue Squad owns.

“If we have the ability and the funding to do it, we should do it,” Pike agreed. The Council directed Dodge to look into RGGI funding and RFPs for the batteries.

Other business

The Town Council voted to grant the Block Island Club a special event license for its upcoming 50th Anniversary party on July 19. The Club had missed the application deadline and been rejected, and therefore appealed the decision on Wednesday night. The Council said that, as long as all necessary health and emergency preparations were in place, it would allow the event.

Rebecca’s Seafood had sent a letter to the Council, requesting that the two 30 minute parking signs directly in front of the Water Street restaurant be changed to two-hour parking. The rest of Water Street parking is two hours, the letter stated, and 30 minutes simply was not enough time for customers to patronize local businesses. Gaffett suggested that all signs be changed to one hour, but Dodge said that because the street is technically a state road, the state would have to get involved if the Council sought to change all of the signs. In the end, the Council voted to change the two signs in front of Rebecca’s to two-hour parking.

Lastly, Don McCluskey of the Block Island Maritime Institute spoke to the Council about the status of the town-owned bathrooms on the Institute’s Smuggler’s Cove property. The bathroom building, which is 40 by 25 feet and located on the east side of the Smuggler’s property, is in need of refurbishment. Several options were discussed, and further talks are needed to reach a conclusion, but the most popular option seemed to be that the Board look into moving the bathroom and/or trading equal land. Sam Bird of the Large Capital Asset Strategy Committee said that the bathroom is on the committee’s list of properties to examine.


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