Today was moving day for 16 residents of a group home formerly located in a single-family home at the former diocesan property on North Avenue.
Their new home is on St. Paul Street, in a newly renovated building next to Smalley Park. The building is owned by Champlain Housing Trust and has been under extensive renovations this summer.
Earlier this year, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington asked a Vermont judge to expedite its eviction process in hopes of getting the residents moved out of the North Avenue home by June.
Renovations to the St. Paul Street home began in May. Michael Monte, chief operating officer of the Champlain Housing Trust, said workers from the project's lead contractor, Lakewind Construction, worked weekends and holidays to get the residents into the home ahead of schedule. "They are the real heroes in this story," Monte said. "They were on a very compressed time schedule and did just an incredible job."
The total project's cost topped $840,000, according to Monte.
"When we saw HowardCenter was struggling with finding a place for these folks to live, we thought that perhaps this is the place where they should be," he said, recalling the events of earlier this year.
All but a few of the residents from Lakeview had taken a tour of their new home, which is slightly smaller than the one on the former diocesan property, said Debra Clemmer, the on-site psychiatric nurse. Clemmer has worked with the home's residents for the past 12 years and will have an office inside the new home. Many of the residents have been diagnosed with acute mental illnesses.
Clemmer gave Seven Days a tour of the property as final preparations were being made for their tenants. One of the advantages of the new place, she noted, is that all but two residents will have their own bedrooms. At the North Avenue home, most residents slept two or more to a room.
"They are really looking forward to the move," said Clemmer. "They are also glad to be staying together; it was important for them to maintain that sense of community," she added. Some of the residents have lived together for more than 30 years.
Clemmer said residents like being closer to downtown, a park, and the HowardCenter's main offices on the corner of Pine Street and Flynn Avenue. In addition, the new home has more windows, and thus more natural light.
What the residents will miss, though, is the garden and two acres that came with the property on North Avenue, Clemmer noted. The building on it will become a residence hall for Burlington College students.
Neighbors on St. Paul Street have been welcoming to the project and some attended an open house last week, according to Monte and Clemmer.
The home has two staff members 24 hours a day, in addition to Clemmer, during the daylight hours. Overnight, there is one full-time awake staff on hand, and a cook who comes in to prepare meals for the residents.
The new home has a shared dining space and living room with a wall-mounted flat-screen TV as well as newly equipped kitchen.
The new home comes after more than a year of legal wrangling.*
In May 2010, Burlington College bought the 32-acre North Avenue property, which included the diocesan headquarters — formerly home to St. Joseph Orphanage — and a smaller house that had served at different times as a retirement home and a Catholic prep school for teenage boys. The college paid $10 million for the property.
The proceeds of the diocese's sale are intended to help pay off portions of a $17.85 million settlement with 26 victims of priest sexual abuse that occurred during the 1970s.
In September 2010, HowardCenter questioned the legality of the diocese’s notice in hopes of buying extra time to find a new group-home location. The initial deadline eviction deadline was November 30. The diocese and college allowed HowardCenter to remain longer, but did not want the group home to remain indefinitely.
This March, the diocese filed suit in Vermont Superior Court in Burlington, asking a judge to rule on the legality of its eviction notice. The diocese claims it issued a proper emergency lease-termination notice in May 2010, giving HowardCenter six months to vacate the property.
In late April, the three parties sat down and worked out a deal to allow the HowardCenter clients to remain in the group home on North Avenue through the end of August.
* this post has been updated to re-order the timeline of events