Proposed Veterans Center In New Seabury Elicits Mixed Reaction
By: Geoff Spillane
Details regarding the opening of a veterans health center at the former Doreen Grace Brain Center in New Seabury began to emerge this week.
Richard C. Grace, son of the founders of the brain center, is in the process of donating the property to the Nam Vets of Cape Cod and the Islands Inc., a nonprofit veterans organization that has been operating an outreach center and transitional housing program in Hyannis since 1983. The organization is partially funded by the state Department of Veterans Services.
The location of the proposed veterans center, in the heart of New Seabury, has already triggered calls to town officials with inquiries about the project, a sign that opposition to the project may be mounting.
The Seanest Drive property near the New Seabury Country Club golf course includes a 10,228-square-foot building on less than a half-acre of land, and is assessed at $770,300. According to the Mashpee treasurer’s office, $11,200 in taxes are owed on the property, which would need to be paid prior to any land transfer.
Founded by the late Richard J. Grace and his wife, Eleanor, to honor their daughter, Doreen, who died at the age of 21 from a viral brain infection, the Brain Center opened its doors in 1987. For two decades it served as a conference center and information clearinghouse dedicated to brain disease research. The center ceased operation in 2007.
Initial reports of the plans to repurpose the building surfaced at the recent National Homeless Memorial Day press conference in Hyannis.
Array Of Social Services For Veterans
Merrill H. Blum, director of the Nam Vets of Cape Cod and the Islands, said he expects the transaction to be finalized by the end of January, and that doors to the new clinic could open as early as March, following completion of renovations to the interior of the building.
Mr. Blum said that he hopes the facility will allow the organization to expand its services to include veterans returning home from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The center will provide social services for veterans and their families, and specialize in the treatment of post traumatic stress disorder. Mr. Blum said that the goal of the program will be to prevent the new generation of veterans from undergoing the same type of trauma experienced by Vietnam veterans.
“We need to get them involved now. In some cases, Vietnam veterans did not seek therapy for 15 years,” said Mr. Blum, adding that the organization is profoundly grateful for the donation of the facility.
Mr. Blum also expects the center to offer traumatic brain injury counseling and therapy, and programs for suicide prevention, anger management, alcoholism, and other substance abuse issues. In addition to traditional therapies, alternative approaches such as yoga and tai chi will also be offered. All clients of the center will be treated on an outpatient basis.
Edward F. Merigan, director of the Veterans Services District office in Barnstable, said he was not aware of the plans to create a veterans center in New Seabury, but that there is definitely a need. “Traumatic brain injury seems to be the major issue affecting returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan. We have seen a lot of cases here on the Cape,” he said.
All towns and cities in Massachusetts are required to employ veterans agents. Mashpee and every town on Cape Cod other than Falmouth are served by the Barnstable office.
Mashpee Town Planner F. Thomas Fudala said the project would not require public hearings or approval from town boards or committees, as it is a proper use of the building. The veterans organization would, however, need to obtain building permits to begin the renovation work.
Mr. Fudala said he has already received several inquiries from town officials and New Seabury residents regarding the approval process for project. While the town zoning rules do not apply because of New Seabury’s unique zoning status, Mr. Fudala said the project would have to comply with state fire and building codes, and federal regulations such as the US Americans with Disabilities Act. ADA compliance may necessitate pavement of the gravel parking lot, leading to possible conservation and environmental review, he said.
The Nam Vets of Cape Cod and the Islands recently joined the Mashpee Chamber of Commerce and already has a “Mashpee” link on its website, although it is not yet populated with content.
Will Health Center Face Opposition?
With a proposed shellfish grant off Popponesset Island receiving ongoing opposition from a group of nearby residents, many wonder whether a health center, in some instances catering to mental health and substance abuse issues, will draw ire from New Seabury residents.
“I would hope there would be no opposition,” said Mashpee Town Manager Joyce M. Mason, who has invited Mr. Blum to address the board of selectmen at its January 9 meeting.
Mr. Blum said that he is striving for transparency with the project, and has been keeping Ms. Mason informed as the plans unfold. “Joyce has been very supportive,” he said.
Mashpee Selectman Michael R. Richardson, who also serves as the executive director of The Peninsula Council, the New Seabury homeowners association, said he has been fielding phone calls from concerned residents since news of the plans were reported in the Enterprise last week.
While there is clear support for a veterans services facility, Mr. Richardson said, there are concerns as to whether the former Brain Center is the best location for the project.
“It’s not easy to find, and there is not much parking. Anyone not familiar with the area would get lost. I would think the location would be too inconvenient for the center’s clientele,” said Mr. Richardson.
Wayne E. Taylor, chairman of the board of selectmen, expressed similar concerns during a telephone conversation earlier this week.
Mr. Taylor, a self-described veterans advocate, said he supports the goals and mission of the organization 100 percent, but does not believe the location is practical or appropriate. “It’s not a board of selectmen decision or issue, but its remote location may not make it the right place to offer the services that are needed,” he said.
Mollie L. Reis, who represents Promontory Point—a neighborhood abutting the Brain Center—on the Peninsula Council, said she could not support a plan that would raze the building, but she would support and even offer to volunteer at the proposed retrofitted facility. At one point a few years ago she unsuccessfully tried to work with then-Congressman William Delahunt’s office to establish a facility to assist veterans returning home from war, she said.
When reached by telephone yesterday, Joseph Colasuonno, project manager for New Seabury Properties, declined to comment on the future use of the Grace building, saying that he just heard about the plans on Wednesday.
Mr. Grace is traveling outside of the United States and did not respond to an e-mail inquiry.
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