New plans for complex near ski site

  • The Highland Inn across from Crotched Mountain Ski Area in Bennington. Staff photo by Abbe Hamilton

  • The Highland Inn across from Crotched Mountain Ski Area in Bennington. Staff photo by Abbe Hamilton—

  • The Highland Inn across from Crotched Mountain Ski Area in Bennington. Staff photo by Abbe Hamilton—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 9/24/2020 1:14:09 PM

The complex of buildings across from Crotched Mountain Ski and Ride in Bennington have seen better days, but the property is getting a new lease on life as Bridge Street Recovery converts it to an outpatient rehabilitation center.

The facility is meant to serve people in the final stages of drug addiction recovery, Bridge Street Recovery general partner Stephen Bryan said. It will provide a day program with classes, counseling, and group work to transition people who have previously completed a detox program to a halfway house or sober home. The average person would attend for less than 45 days, Bryan said, and the facility will also have eight beds for transitional housing, where residents in need could stay up to two years. Bridge Street purchased the property a couple weeks ago and renovations could start next week, he said.

The Highland Inn was the last business to operate in the space before closing 20 years ago, Bennington Town Administrator Kristie LaPlante said. An electrical fire broke out in the early 2000s, and police got involved in 2007 when the main office building was vandalized, she said. The building’s previous owner worked on converting the buildings to condominiums throughout their closure. Although the town’s Planning Board approved the conversion, the plan never came to fruition. A second fire broke out in a single room around 2015, potentially caused by an intense sunlight reflection igniting something inside. “Somebody on the ski lift saw white smoke coming out of the building,” LaPlante said, and the fire was extinguished before it spread.

The hotel was initially built in 1987. “There were such large hopes, and such a big boom of building in that area,” LaPlante said, but, “once the ski area went bust, all the progress went bust as well.”

“You could tell there was going to be something happening there, that’s the way I felt at the time,” Francestown native Amy Laber said, but ultimately, “The timing was off.” Laber worked for the Joshi family at what was then the Econolodge for a couple weeks in 1994. The ski area was closed at the time and construction workers comprised most of the business, she said. Despite her short tenure as a chambermaid, the exacting standards and emphasis on efficiency left an impression: Laber still cleans to the Joshi family’s standards today. “They wanted everything to be perfect,” she said.

The adjacent restaurant building on the property predates the inn, Francestown resident Mark Pitman said, back to the days when the ski area was called Bobcat. It was built in 1973, a passion project for owner Ed Benoit, who worked as an engineer for a defense company, so he and his friends had a place to ski on weekends. His friends eventually convinced him to go full time as a restaurateur, and it became the Black Boar. “Ed was a character,” Pitman recalled from his stint as assistant manager in the mid-1970s. Benoit would play his trumpet throughout the night, getting more brassy and obnoxious around closing time to move customers along. “He cut his own steaks, made his own bread… everyone who tried it loved it. I still bake it, it’s still delicious,” Pitman said. “[The Black Boar] had a great mystique in ski season,” he said.  Employees from Crotched Mountain Rehab would fill the place up on pay day, and regulars bought sterling mugs with their name printed on it for discount beers.

Bridge Street Recovery is spending “a fair amt of money” to rehab the buildings inside and out, Bryan said. “They really look a lot worse on the outside than they do on the inside,” he said.

The Bennington facility is one of two properties Bridge Street Recovery owns, Bryan said. The other  is the 62 bed medical detox facility at 25 and 30 Bridge Street behind the Peterborough Plaza off Route 101. The Peterborough Planning Board approved its construction in Aug. 2018, but the project was delayed after the company determined that they’d need to upgrade their materials to meet the I2 code governing an institutional medical facility. The original floor plan and room sizes and numbers would stay the same, but the original plans for wooden modular construction had to be upgraded to steel and other more fireproof materials, Bryan said, at a substantial increase in cost. “It’s literally like a little hospital,” he said.

Although it’s delayed the project, the higher building standards isn’t necessarily a bad thing, Bryan said: with it comes a certain level of licensing, and allows Bridge Street Recovery to admit patients in any physical or emotional condition. It’s set to be an ASAM Level 4 facility, providing medically managed intensive inpatient services for adolescents and adults, with 24-hour nursing care and daily physician care, with counseling available 16 hours a day. That rating is the highest intensity of services on the American Society of Addiction Medicine’s continuum of treatment, according to the ASAM’s website. The Bennington facility will not require the same licensing as an outpatient program, but they’ll be seeking JCAHO certification through the Joint Commission, Bryan said.

The task of financing such a project is taking longer since the arrangement is fairly unique to the state, he said. Bryan declined to name the total cost of the Bennington and Peterborough construction projects since current estimates were “kind of a moving target,” but said the materials upgrades to the Peterborough facility increased its cost by “millions of dollars”

“It was exciting to the community and then it lost some steam along the way,” he said of the Peterborough site, which was supposed to be completed before the one in Bennington, but the state government has been supportive so far.  “[We] were really warmly received, everybody was welcoming, there were questions but no dissent,” he said, which surprised him, since detox facilities aren’t always seen as attractive to abutters. “Peterborough is a progressive town,” he said.

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