February 19

Augusta veterans housing proposal moves forward

Legislative panel gives unanimous approval to Rep. Corey Wilson’s bill that would convert vacant buildings on former AMHI campus; consideration by the full House and Senate comes next.

By Keith Edwards kedwards@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

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click image to enlarge

Rep. Corey Wilson, R-Augusta

Staff file photo by Joe Phelan

Daniel Wathen

File photo

The bill authorizes, but does not require, the state Bureau of General Services to sell the group homes at 6 and 10 Arsenal Heights Drive and 7 and 11 Independence Drive, but restricts the sale to nonprofit groups for use as transitional housing for veterans. That restriction is expected to result in a lower market price for the property than would result were it sold with no restrictions.

Wilson, himself a veteran, wasted no time trying to negotiate a price. After the vote, he approached Jennifer Smith, spokeswoman for the Department of Administrative and Financial Services, to ask if the department would consider selling the homes for $10,000. She said she could not commit to a price on the spot, and would review state policies for the sale.

Smith told the committee, however, if the bill is approved by the Legislature and signed by LePage, she would expect the transaction to be complete by fall.

Wilson said private fundraising will have to take place to both buy the property and renovate the buildings — two of which are in better condition than the other, larger two.

“It’s so exciting to have an opportunity here to help vets, and I hope we set a precedent, that this is just the beginning,” Wilson said. “Now we can start fundraising.”

The group homes closed the summer of 2012 when the occupants were moved to group homes on Glenridge Drive and Green Street.

Wilson said demolishing the buildings was expected to cost the state about $100,000, a cost that would be avoided by the state if it sold or gave away the buildings instead of demolishing them.

Two of the buildings could be easily converted to veterans housing. They’re already equipped with conference rooms, private bedrooms, central kitchens and strong foundations, according to LaChance.

When it comes to helping Riverview forensic patients, Wathen said state officials arranged for and found 10 beds within the existing stock of group home housing for patients making the transition back into society. Forensic patients are people who have committed a violent or criminal act and have been ordered to the hospital by the court.

Wathen said most of the beds are in the Augusta area. He said the department will use a new analytical tool that could speed the process of determining when patients are ready to move out of secure group homes into less secure supported apartments. And moving patients out of group homes into apartments faster will, in turn, free up spots in group homes for patients getting out of Riverview.

Wathen said DHHS also committed to developing six outpatient forensic patient beds through Dorothea Dix Psychiatric Center in Bangor.

In December, Wathen told a legislative committee that six Riverview patients had been cleared to leave Riverview but couldn’t find group home placements, and three more were expected to get permission to leave in the next few months.

Wathen said the changes he discussed Wednesday had already allowed eight patients to leave Riverview for group homes.

Keith Edwards - 621-5647 kedwards@centralmaine.com

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