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For one Brattleboro nonprofit, shutdown creates real-estate limbo

Turning Point is in a holding pattern as it tries to buy a building and return to downtown

BRATTLEBORO—Susan Walker, executive director of Turning Point of Windham County, agreed with members of the nonprofit’s new building task force that they found the organization a perfect new home — a heavily-Irene-damaged-but-cozy, 15-room, single-family dwelling downtown at the intersection of Elm, Frost, and Flat streets.

That is, until the federal government shutdown put a temporary kibosh on potential funding.

As Congress discusses the budget and raising the debt ceiling in Washington, D.C. — a process that continues as The Commons goes to press on Tuesday night — Walker and task force members worry that they’ll lose the Elm Street property to the open market.

“Well, I can only whine about it,” Walker says with a laugh. She contacted local media outlets to share Turning Point’s plans for the building hoping to deter other buyers.

Turning Point offers multiple services to people in recovery and those affected by addiction. The center offers peer support, education, meeting space, and resource options, as well as opportunities to socialize and volunteer.

Turning Point moved from its original Elm Street location — the rent had skyrocketed — one day before Tropical Storm Irene hit in August 2011.

Although she described the Putney Road building as good and the landlord great, Walker said the location has posed a challenge.

Compared to the downtown location, few people walk to the out-of-the-way location behind KFC and Taco Bell to attend recovery-related meetings.

As a result, attendance has dropped significantly, said Walker. About 2,000 fewer people drop by the center annually now, compared to two years ago.

Last November, Turning Point formed a task force devoted to evaluating properties and researching funding solutions.

But conversations about potential funding through the U.S. Department of Agriculture have dropped into the shutdown abyss, said Walker, who added that the USDA could potentially provide the bulk of funding through its rural development loans.

In addition to the USDA, the Thompson Trust, which supports organizations in Windham County and Dutchess County, N.Y., “is strongly supportive of our plans,” said Walker. The trust has supported Turning Point since 2008.

Turning Point has also researched disaster-recovery funds that could repair the Irene-ravaged building.

“And our partners and the recovery community have all been anxiously awaiting our return to the downtown area,” wrote Walker in an email.

Return to the neighborhood

Walker and her colleagues at Turning Point recognize that the building’s proximity to the Elliot Street neighborhood, with a reputation for crime and drugs, raises eyebrows.

“But we can just be part of a movement for change,” she said.

Rather than avoid what makes us uncomfortable in our community, Turning Point can provide a positive and safe drug-free place for everyone, said Walker.

The building has stood empty since sustaining heavy damage when Tropical Storm Irene flooded downtown Brattleboro two years ago. The property also slipped into foreclosure shortly before Irene made matters worse.

Still, the building was listed for sale and recently valued at $88,900, down from $139,500, said Walker.

As a nonprofit, said Walker, the center can access funds, volunteer hours, and other resources not open to a private buyer.

The building needs an estimated $65,000 in rehabilitation, said Walker. For starters, there’s a large hole in the roof.

Despite the building’s challenges, Walker and the task force fell in love with it, and she said the yellow house on the corner of Elm Street feels like the right place. And, she said, each time she and the task force nearly gave up, another stroke of luck would bring them back to study the building’s possibilities.

“We’ve just had a lot of really good momentum,” she said.

The building has enough rooms for large meetings, for office space that Turning Point can rent to similar agencies, for “hang-out space,” and for kitchen facilities, said Walker.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #225 (Wednesday, October 16, 2013). This story appeared on page A3.

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