May 17, 2007
By ANDY KIRKALDY
VERGENNES — About three years after it closed, the Briarwood Nursing Home will be returned to its former mission in Vergennes under new management and with a new name: Spruce Gardens Residential Care Home.
Building contractor Alan Giguere has a contract to purchase Briarwood from owner John LaBerge, who has been marketing the 10,000-square-foot building on a 4-acre lot at 1 Alder Place for $1.2 million.
Ferrisburgh native and 1986 Vergennes Union High School graduate Earl Dionne, who will manage Spruce Gardens for Giguere, said Giguere now has a lease on the property, but that a sale is planned for mid-June.
Not too long after that Dionne and Giguere hope to start filling the 19-bed facility, which is about three blocks north of Main Street, with its target population: seniors who need some help but still have most skills intact.
“It’s exactly the same population (Briarwood served),” Dionne said, “people that are mostly independent, who do require a little assistance with cooking or medication management but are basically fully functional.”
They expect little trouble filling those beds, even after Briarwood’s vacant years.
“Other facilities in the county have waiting lists, so there’s definitely demand,” said Dionne, who pursued his certification as a licensed practical nurse at Vermont Technical College and served the U.S. Navy on a submarine during the Gulf War after leaving VUHS.
There are some loose ends to tie up first. Although city zoning was not a problem because the building’s use did not change, Dionne said because the building sat idle for so long that for state permitting purposes Spruce Gardens must start at square one.
The licensing process is going well, he said, but renovations — including the major element, an upgraded sprinkler system — are taking time. The target date for opening is July 1, but realistically could be later.
“We’re still hoping for July 1, but it may be as late as Aug. 1,” Dionne said. “There’s still a lot to do.”
Work will not include exterior modifications that neighbors will notice, he said.
“As far as the outside, there will be little or no change to the building,” Dionne said.
Dionne will be joined on Giguere’s management team by Burlington native Donna Dumas, who will be the facilities manager. All three have considerable expertise that Dionne said will help the project move forward.
Giguere’s contracting work has focused mostly on public buildings, including designing and helping to build the new Immigration and Naturalization Service facility in Burlington, and Dionne said Giguere has current projects in Bennington, Ascutney, Jeffersonville and Rutland.
Dumas is a licensed nurse assistant who has worked in the long-term care field for 20 years, including stints with a nursing home in Burlington, at The Arbors in Shelburne, and with Colchester’s visiting nurses’ association. She has also specialized in the food service end of the field. Dumas said a family tie convinced her to get into elderly care.
“I really like working with the elderly. My grandmother was the biggest influence in my life,” she said.
Dumas said she jumped at the chance to become involved in Spruce Gardens because it was “starting from the ground up, being able to open the place and be a part of that.”
Dionne started his nursing career in the medical and surgical wards and the emergency room of the Central Vermont Hospital in Berlin, and has also worked in long-term care, including a stint at Clark’s Nursing Home in Vergennes and three years as a nurse coordinator at The Arbors.
Like Dumas, he was happy to come to Spruce Gardens for a start-up operation, but also had some other motives.
“For me it was location. It was bringing me back to where I grew up,” he said. “The building is beautiful, and it’s home to me.”