CLAREMONT — Sullivan County officials are backing off the plan to put a sober transitional housing program in downtown Claremont after cost estimates came in around $3 million, half a million dollars higher than anticipated.

“It’s probably a bridge too far at this time,” Sullivan County Manager Derek Ferland said.

The county wanted to put the transitional housing facility in the old Eagle Times building on Sullivan Street as part of the county Department of Corrections Traditional Re-entry and Inmate Life Skills, or TRAILS, program. Ferland said the plan was to have a self-sustaining transitional housing program that could house up to 40 people as they worked to get sober, get jobs and contribute to the community.

The original plan, based on an architectural estimate, was for $2.5 million for the purchase and renovation of the building. Ferland said the county did not want to pass those costs on to the taxpayer, and had lined up most of the funding to avoid a tax impact.

The county had $500,000 set aside in its budget for the project, and was also counting on another $500,000 in Community Development Block Grant funding, $800,000 in state housing grants, and $700,000 in financing.

Ferland said that while the county could have carried that $700,000 in financing, he wanted to see more grant money come in to prevent taxpayers from absorbing the cost. When the price tag went up following a recent estimate from a construction management company, Ferland said the financial gap was too great to justify continuing with the project.

It’s not clear what the county will do to address developing a transitional housing program facility. Waiting through another budget cycle to line up the funds for the Sullivan Street property does not make sense, he said.

“The cost to renovate that building isn’t going to get any cheaper,” he said.

A smaller, and potentially less expensive property could be in the offing, but Ferland said that would mean fewer people in need of services would be able to receive help.

“We think the need is for a 40-person facility,” he said.

The TRAILS program would have expanded to the Sullivan Street property, giving people in recovery a stable place to live as they put in the time and effort into addressing their substance abuse issues and they transition out of jail. The people living in the house would have paid a rent as part of the program, as they would be required to work while living in the facility.

The plan garnered some local opposition from downtown residents and business owners. This is the second time the county has considered putting a traditional housing facility downtown. A prior plan to use the old Junior Sports League building on School Street was scuttled when neighbors objected.

Sunday, October 20, 2019