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Shard Villa retirement home to close in May

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By JOHN FLOWERS

SALISBURY — Shard Villa, one of the oldest and most historically significant senior care facilities in Vermont, will close its doors on May 30 due to budget problems, board members confirmed Friday.

Shard Villa staff are currently working to relocate the seven remaining senior clients housed within the 130-year-old mansion built by Columbus Smith in the 1870s. Plans call for the mansion to be “cocooned” for now, with the intent of reopening it during brighter financial times to pursue its “twin missions of elder care and heritage preservation,” according to Shard Villa Trustee Don Shall.

The Addison Independent reported last summer that financial problems had forced Shard Villa directors to consider closing the facility to senior care. Officials at the time had cited spiraling heating fuel costs as a major culprit. While fuel costs have since declined dramatically, Shard Villa board Chairwoman Diane Benware explained the facility has not been able to maintain a client load sufficient to break even. She noted Shard Villa can accommodate up to 14 clients and must maintain 12 just to break even. Now with seven clients, Shard Villa couldn’t keep the operation — which has around a dozen full- and part-time employees — solvent.

“We are disappointed,” Benware said the decision to close, which trustees made on Feb. 16. The board did not publicly announce its plans until Friday, in order to first inform clients and employees.

“We simply don’t have the financial resources to continue,” Benware said in a press release. “As trustees we cannot take further risks with our remaining assets. We feel a deep sense of regret and sadness. Our first priority now is for our director, Deb Choma, to work with the residents and their families to find a new home. We are assisting the staff in their transition. We also want everyone to know that, as our director for the past 19 years, Deb has provided exceptional care to every resident and every family. We could not have asked for more of her or her staff.”

Harriett Smith, Columbus Smith’s wife, began taking elders into the home in 1919, then formally launched the senior care facility in an L-shaped addition built in 1922 — a service she sought to perpetuate through her will. Shard Villa leaders are in the process of asking a probate court judge to rule that financial hardship now makes the senior care operation untenable.

Shard Villa officials had hoped to stave off closing the facility. The board recently raised rates from what had been $131.50 per day to the current $155 per day.

Directors formed a task force to perform a feasibility study on the future of the Villa as a residential care facility and as an historic site. The Vermont Housing & Conservation Board provided a grant of $10,000 for costs associated with this study. During the fall and early winter, officials conducted several studies, including a capital needs assessment, an energy audit by Efficiency Vermont, an extensive review of the Villa’s recent financial history and projections and an analysis of competition and industry changes in the health care market locally and regionally.

When the board of trustees and the task force met in late January to review and discuss the various reports, it was clear that the future of the Villa as a care facility was very doubtful, according to Benware.

“It has been like a perfect storm,” Benware, said, alluding to the worsening economic climate, the dramatic drop in the trust’s endowment and rising operating costs.

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