MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — Vermont is considering building a temporary, seven-bed secure psychiatric facility on state property in Middlesex that would remain in place while a permanent new psychiatric hospital is built in Berlin, officials said Friday.
State officials had been looking for locations for such a facility in central Vermont, and had been considering a site in Waterbury, but had been unable to work out an agreement with the landowner, said Buildings and General Services Commissioner Mike Obuchowski.
Now the plan — if the state can get local zoning approval — is to build a secure, modular structure on what is now a softball field on state property next to the state police station and general services buildings in Middlesex, Obuchowski said.
"This location is ideal from several perspectives," said a statement issued by Obuchowski's office. They include "immediate proximity and access to I-89 ... existing state owned property, easily developed site with existing access to US Route 2, zoned for industrial development with few residences in proximity to the site, and little impact to the community."
The seven beds would be one piece of a puzzle the state has been working to piece together since Aug. 28, 2011, when Tropical Storm Irene unleashed flooding that inundated the area and forced the closure of the Vermont State Hospital in Waterbury. The state is looking to replace that 54-bed institution with a 26-bed hospital in Berlin and smaller psychiatric units in hospitals in Brattleboro, Rutland, Burlington and Morrisville, as well as increased use of community placements for some patients.
The statement from Obuchowski's office said the Middlesex site also would be less disruptive for former Vermont State Hospital staff, many of whom have been required to work in scattered locations around the state since Irene.
Obuchowski said he could not provide a precise cost estimate, but said getting the facility up and running likely would cost "around $1 million."
Obuchowski said the state would like to use as the contractor on the Middlesex project the St. Johnsbury-based firm Mobile Medical International Corp, which specializes in rapid construction of medical facilities with military deployments and at disaster sites. But he said the state would have to put the work out to bid to be eligible for funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Groundbreaking on the Berlin project is slated for late November, and officials are hoping for an opening in January 2014.