The Block Island Times

Doctor's house bond approved

By Lily O'Gara | Aug 11, 2014

After hearing from the public following a proposed $925,000 bond for refurbishment of the doctor’s house at a July 16 meeting, the Doctor’s Residence Advisory Committee shifted gears. At the Aug. 4 Town Council meeting, the Committee proposed a two-fold project in which the first and second floors of the Dunn House would be upgraded and reserved exclusively for the physician and a separate building would be constructed for medical support staff and/or town employees.

The new project cost, which members of the Town Council unanimously approved for inclusion on the November ballot, is an estimated $1.25 million.

According to Herman Mast, a member of the Advisory Committee, this proposal change followed suggestions from the public that a private residence for the doctor be provided, and suggestions from the Large Capital Asset Strategy Committee (LCASC) that a “revenue generating component” be added to the plan.

“That we have taken those messages to heart is reflected in the proposal the Advisory Committee now puts before you,” Mast said.

As the plan stands now, the interior ell of the Dunn House will be removed, the interior of all three floors will be demolished, and the first and second will be remodeled. The two floors dedicated to the doctor consist of about 2,150 square feet of living space, which Mast said should be suitable for a doctor who has a family or is looking to start one. A separate, “low profile, slab-on-grade” building containing two 1,000 to 1,100 square foot apartments would be constructed on site for the use of medical students and interns. When not occupied by interns, short-term medical support personnel could utilize one of the apartments. A town employee could rent the other year-round, and the rental revenue could help offset maintenance costs in the Special Medical Zone, Mast said.

The Advisory Committee estimated that renovations to the doctor’s house will cost approximately $575,000 and that construction of the two-unit structure will cost $475,000, totaling $1.05 million. Mast said that a slightly over 14 percent contingency brings the cost up to $1.2 million, and that the Committee agreed that a bonding figure of $1.25 million would allow for any “unanticipated expenses.” According to Mast, Town Finance Director Amy Land said that taxpayers could expect to pay $40 per million dollars of assessed property value yearly for 20 years.

Although elections are not until November, the language for the special referendum question regarding the doctor’s house had to be submitted by Wednesday, August 6 for inclusion on the ballot. The bond amount, therefore, had to be voted upon at the August 4 meeting. Town Manager Nancy Dodge said she was in favor of the $1.25 million bond, which would allow for the most flexibility, should plan details change.

Several members of the community said they were in favor of splitting the referendum into two parts, packaging the $575,000 house as one item and the $475,000 apartment structure as another. Voters disillusioned by a $1.25 million price tag might be more receptive to voting only for the $575,000 house. This way, at least the doctor’s house could be constructed.

In response, David Kane, of the Doctor’s Residence Advisory Committee, said, “We can’t do without it [the intern apartments]. It’s as simple as that.”

Though time was of the essence, there was much conversation on the floor following the updated proposal, particularly with regards to the new structure. Sven Risom, chair of the LCASC, was concerned that the town was adding another building without considering the island holistically. He agreed that renovations to the Dunn House were necessary, but felt that a discussion regarding additional intern/rental housing should be held.

Sam Bird, also a member of the LCASC, felt that the process needed to “move forward as expeditiously as possible,” given the urgency of submitting language for the referendum, as well as the need to attract a physician. He said he felt that trust should be placed in the Doctor’s Residence Advisory Committee, which studied the project at length. The additional apartment could be incorporated into the LCASC’s master plan later.

Others, such as Margie Comings, chair of the Planning Board and Socha Cohen, a member of the Planning Board. felt that looking into the renovation of existing properties, such as the Thomas House, could be a cost-efficient method for housing interns.

“I can’t imagine that we’d want to spend serious money on that building,” Mast said of the Thomas House. He said he felt that continually applying temporary fixes leads to situations like the one facing the Dunn House today. Creating a sustainable, efficient house and an additional apartment from the onset made the most sense, he said.

Kane also pointed out that the medical interns typically do not bring cars to the island, and that housing them near the Medical Center is critical. First Warden Kim Gaffett said that the zone was created “to concentrate medical needs on a single lot.”

“We’ve added up our numbers, we’ve looked at it from all angles,” Councilor Norris Pike, who is also a member of the Doctor’s Residence Advisory Committee, said. “But we’ve got to move…I think our charge is clear.”

After an hour and a half of discussion, the Council voted 5 to 0 to approve the financing question for the ballot, with the single $1.25 million bond proposal.Dodge was also authorized to submit Requests for Qualifications for architectural work.


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