The Block Island Times

Plan to upgrade doctor’s house revised

Renovation and new building estimated at $1.25 million
By Lars Trodson | Aug 01, 2014
Photo by: Kari Curtis

“The phone has not stopped ringing. I’ve heard from people on the street, some of it very thoughtful,” said Herman Mast, a member of the advisory group that is ushering through plans to renovate the house in which the island doctor resides. “The overwhelming opinion is to build a separate house for the doctor.”

The phone was ringing after it was announced that a preliminary plan to refurbish the home which is provided to the island doctor, known as the Dunne House, didn’t seem to adequately provide a new doctor with enough privacy (the residence would be shared with interns during the summer), nor did it factor in a rental unit from which the town could not only provide housing for a town employee, but also generate some revenue to offset the cost of the construction project.

“We need a separate house that is commensurate with a doctor’s status and accomplishments,” said Mast. Addressing the concerns raised by the public, Mast said, “It’s going to be very hard for us to go against that opinion.”

In the end, the group didn’t. But rather than build a new house, the current residence will be renovated and a separate house will be built with two apartments.

“Whether the new housing is used for a medical student or town employee, you need to be flexible,” said Mast. “The rent can be used to take care of [the cost] of the maintenance.”

The discussion on the house has been prompted by the resignation of the island’s current physician, Dr. Janice Miller, who will be leaving her post on Dec. 1.

The five members of the subcommittee, which reports to Town Manager Nancy Dodge, met for about an hour on Tuesday, July 28, and agreed on a proposal that they will collectively bring to the Town Council on Monday, Aug. 4.

The plan now calls for the existing house to be completely redone at a cost of about $600,000 and to build an entirely new residence consisting of two apartments, each of about 1,000 square feet, that will be for interns and a town employee. The cost for that new structure was estimated at about $400,000 to $500,000 , bringing the total cost of the new plan to about $1.1 million.

Factoring in contingencies, Mast suggested that a bond for $1.25 million be presented to the council This is an increase from the original plan presented last week, which was estimated at $925,000.

It was ex officio member Barbara Baldwin who brought up the matter of cost. Baldwin, who is the executive director of the Medical Center. “I just know that what I’m hearing from the community is cost,” said Baldwin, referring to the earlier figure of $925,000.

“I’m not hearing that at all,” said Dodge.

I haven’t heard that,” said Mast, who also added that he had been hearing from people that the town needed to spend the money necessary to upgrade the doctor’s house.

But Baldwin said that people were “shocked” at the price.

A bond for $1 million would cost island taxpayer’s about $32 a year per $1 million of evaluation for each year of a 20-year bond.

“The arguments I’ve heard are to do what’s important,” said Dodge.

“There are things we have only one shot at,” said member Norris Pike. Dodge said that she would ask Town Finance Director Amy Land to calculate what the tax levy would be on a $1.25 million bond.

There is some urgency to the matter. The issue must be presented to the Town Council, and a plan and a price approved so that it can be presented to the town on the November ballot. (This is also an election year on Block Island.) There is also the matter of sending out queries to potential architects, and a draft of an RFQ will also be presented to the council at the Monday meeting.




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