Key financing piece OK'd for Health Center (Times Argus)

By Mel Huff

PLAINFIELD - A key piece of financing for a long-awaited expansion plan fell into place this week when The Health Center in Plainfield was notified state officials had given final approval for a $2.5 million revenue bond.

The approval came from the Vermont Economic Development Authority and it will allow the nonprofit health center to obtain low-interest funds for its $3.6 million expansion, which will more than double the size of the overcrowded facility.

VEDA gave preliminary approval in September to the proposal by the center, which serves a large swath of people from Marshfield and Cabot to Calais, Woodbury, East Montpelier and other areas of Washington County.

"This is very good news for the people of central Vermont who rely on the Health Center in Plainfield for their health care services," said VEDA executive director Jo Bradley, who noted the expansion would also lead to additional jobs.

"It's exciting!" exclaimed Linda Bartlett, the Health Center's operations manager and the coordinator of the expansion project. She said they sought financing through VEDA because they were able get a much better interest rate since the VEDA bond is tax-exempt.

"It's an alternative way to fund a mortgage," she said.

Bartlett explained that each town in Vermont gets a $10 million bond allocation for the year. "We had to go to the town of Plainfield and ask to use a portion of their bond allocation." The selectboard approved the request, the Northfield Savings Bank agreed to purchase the $2.5 million industrial revenue bond, and the clinic got the money.

"The people at VEDA have been super helpful in helping us set this up," Bartlett observed.

The current 8,950-square-foot facility will be expanded by a 12,000-square-foot addition. Once the work is completed, The Health Center will be able to increase the number of patients it sees by 41 percent, from 8,500 to 12,000.

In the three years following the project's completion, the Health Center expects to add 17 positions, including doctors, physician assistants, dentists, mental health providers, social workers and pharmacy employees.

Work has already begun on the addition, which had its official groundbreaking in October. Bartlett said the footings and foundation walls are in, and the contractors are "putting in things like elevator pits now."

Once the addition is finished, the clinic will move into it, making way for renovations to the original building. Bartlett predicted the entire project will be completed some time in October. "We'll have a grand celebration," she declared.

Bartlett said that the Health Center has enough money to complete the project, but that it is still hoping to raise another $500,000. "The more we can raise to pay down (the mortgage), the more we can do in program," she said.