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Good News: Camphill Ghent moves forward

Jan 06, 2011 7:01 am
[caption id="" align="alignright" width="200" caption="The site for the new Camphill Ghent facility, as seen on the Camphill website."][/caption]Bob Green of the Register Star reports this morning that construction is now underway at Camphill Ghent, an innovative continuous care facility for senior citizens to be located on Route 66 in Columbia County. The developers are associated with Camphill Village in Copake, one of many related communities worldwide where persons with disabilities are housed in small group settings along with their caregivers, some of them volunteers.

The $20 million project faced a funding gap last year when a hoped-for congressional appropriation did not come through. Meanwhile a previously-awarded $9.6 million grant, from a state health care initiative, imposed a two year deadline. That meant construction had to start in 2010 or the funds would be lost.

Enter the Columbia County Capital Resource Corporation, which is empowered to issue tax-free bonds on behalf of qualified non-profits. With CRC’s help, Camphill Ghent closed last week on a loan of more than $5 million from lender First Niagara. Due to the tax free nature of the deal, Camphill Ghent will pay a reduced interest rate on the loan. No taxpayer money is involved or at risk, while CRC collects a .75 percent fee for its role.

The other big piece of the puzzle came from within Camphill’s own organization, in the form of a “grant from (Camphill) Copake for the land” according to John Baring, head of Camphill Ghent and also a board member and long-time volunteer at Camphill Copake.

“It’s a big weight off our shoulders to have funding in place to complete construction” of the project’s first phase, he said. “It’s exciting knowing funding is in place … We are very grateful to First Niagara.”

Now both dirt and snow are flying at the site, and Baring says construction is “going nicely” with plumbing and framing underway for “co-housing” where seniors and their specially-trained service providers will live in a group setting, the model that has proved so successful elsewhere in the Camphill system. Pads will soon be poured for the “townhouses”, where seniors who wish to live independently can still enjoy the benefits and services of a community dedicated to their needs.

“It’s amazing to see them working in the cold weather,” Baring said of trades people who dealt with the effects of last week’s blizzard. But when Camphill officials visited the site to say thanks, the message in return was the same. “Thank you for the work,” they said, according to Baring.

Studies suggest significant pent-up demand for senior housing of all types in our region, and many facilities have waiting lists. Baring said that, subject to approval by the state Department of Health, information on what it will cost to live at the facility should be available “in the first quarter of 2011.”

One open issue concerns the main entrance at Route 66. The state Department of Transportation has expressed concerns about sight lines and has furnished its recommended alternative, but that plan is not favored by the Department of Environmental Conservation, which says that DOT’s plan will disturb wetlands. The Ghent Planning Board agrees with the DEC’s position.

For his part, Baring is hoping for “compromise” between agencies on the matter. “Everybody is trying to do their duty,” Baring said of state officials. For now, the matter is in a holding pattern. “Let’s wait until the new governor is in place,” Baring told the Register-Star.

Planning Board Chair Jonathan Walters echoed Baring’s comments. He thinks the developers and planners should be able to “figure out something that will satisfy DOT’s legitimate concerns about sight distance,” without the cost and environmental impact of DOT’s alternative.

Walters said an earlier letter from DOT raised the possibility of a deceleration lane, and he thinks that idea merits a closer look. “We want to work this out too,” Walters said of the Planning Board. The current site plan also completely accommodates the proposed Harlem Valley Rail Trail, and DOT’s plan might complicate that too.

Kenneth J. Flood, commissioner of Columbia County Planning/Economic Development, said the project, in addition to being approved as creditworthy on its own merits by First Niagara, also passed the county’s test for tax-free status. “We look at the jobs created,” and other economic impacts, he said. So when the CRC board asked last year, “is this something we want to help,” the answer came up in the affirmative.

More information on Camphill Ghent is available at http://www.camphillvillage.org/ghent.html.

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