The Augusta Planning Board voted unanimously Tuesday night to approve the construction of a $76.8 million, 138-bed nursing home for veterans across Old Belgrade Road from MaineGeneral Medical Center.
The multi-building facility will be built by Maine Veterans’ Homes, a nonprofit corporation, to replace the nursing facility that it operates on Cony Road in Augusta.
“I think this is going to be a very good project, and I think it will be a very good investment for the people it serves,” Planning Board Chairman Justin Poirier said, shortly before the nine-member committee voted in favor of the project.
Maine Veterans’ Homes plans to begin construction in spring 2018, and the project could take two years.
In approving the application, the Planning Board included several additional conditions for Maine Veterans’ Homes to meet.
The organization must have all the necessary permits from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, and it must post a performance bond for costs that could be incurred by the city, said Alison Nichols, secretary of the Planning Board, before the vote.
The project will require blasting of ledge, and the organization also will have to notify neighbors, including MaineGeneral, when that is happening, Nichols said.
During a public hearing before the vote, several Maine Veterans’ Homes executives and an engineering consultant addressed the Planning Board and answered questions about its size and the services it will offer.
According to the proposed building plans, residents would live in individual units clustered together in several residential-style buildings connected by walkways, rather than in a more traditional institutional-style building. All units in the complex, which would be on 44 acres off Henrys Way, would be private residences with private bathrooms, rather than the mostly semi-private rooms at Maine Veterans’ Homes’ 150-bed nursing facility at 310 Cony Road.
Several Planning Board members praised the design, including A. Delaine Nye.
“I think this is an amazing design, with the individual buildings,” she said.
While the property will require considerable grading, the designers hope to preserve many of the trees and other vegetation that now stand around it.
“We do manage to maintain a lot of wooded area in back and front,” said Andrew Johnson, the engineering consultant. “It creates this really nice buffering environment around what will be the new development.”
The new facility also will include a number of outdoor amenities, including walking paths and spaces where residents can receive occupational therapy.
Lionel Cayer, the city engineer, also attended the meeting and said he doesn’t believe any off-site work will be needed for the project to go forward, but he said adjustments could have to be made on a nearby traffic signal.
The new facility will have 138 beds, 12 fewer than the current Cony Road facility, which opened in 1983. On Tuesday, the organization’s chief executive officer, Kelley Kash, said it arrived at that number based on a projected decline in the population of older veterans in Maine.
In the past, Kash has said the group’s current Augusta facility is not filled to capacity, although demand remains high overall. The corporation’s facilities operate at 94 to 95 percent of their capacity, he said.
It’s not clear what will happen to Maine Veterans’ Homes current facility on Cony Road, Kash said this week.
According to the facility’s deed, it must be operated as a medical facility. If not, Kash told the Planning Board, the land is supposed to go back into state ownership.
“In theory, we own (the) building and they (the state) own the land,” Kash said.
Now, Kash said, Maine Veterans’ Home is negotiating with the state about the future of that property.
Although it is not part of the current proposal, Kash has said the new property has enough space that the group could expand the programming offered there, including outpatient treatment, physical therapy and adult day health care services to veterans.
The project is expected to cost about $76.8 million, with $50 million of that projected to come from a federal Veterans Affairs grant and $26.8 million coming from Maine Veterans’ Homes.
When the MaineGeneral hospital was built in 2013, city officials changed the zoning in the surrounding area to create a new medical district, anticipating that health care-related businesses and other entities could be located nearby.
Charles Eichacker — 621-5642