County eyes spot for post-prison facility

COURTESY PHOTOThe former Vintage Grace adult retirement/day care facility on Peabody Road in Derry is at the center of a controversy. Some town officials say a proposed plan to turn the building into a county transitional facility isn't a good idea.

DERRY — Rockingham County is eyeing a former elder housing facility as a possible site for transitional housing for those leaving the prison system.

Some town officials are not happy about that.

When Town Councilor Brian Chirichiello, also a Derry state representative and a member of the Rockingham County Executive Committee, found out that the former Vintage Grace facility on Peabody Road was being studied as a potential location, he was upset for at least two reasons. First, he didn't like the prospect of a post-prison facility being located in that spot, and second, he didn't like that he found out only last week.

"I have a major issue with this," Chirichiello said at a recent Town Council meeting. "A lot of this doesn't smell right about this situation."

The property at 12 Peabody Road is owned by the Derry Housing and Redevelopment Authority. It was put on the market for $675,000, according to town assessment records.

The building sits on an acre of land and is not far from Grinnell Elementary and Gilbert H. Hood Middle schools.

On May 8, the Executive Council met for an hours-long remote meeting and talked about the transitional housing proposal.

District 3 County Commissioner Kevin Coyle, a former Derry resident and town councilor, said the county has been talking for some time about transitional housing and where it could be located.

The prospect of acquiring the Derry property came to the county's attention, Coyle said.

"We thought it fit the needs of what we were looking for," he added.

There is a long way to go, Coyle said, before any deal on purchasing the building would be final. That would include having public hearings and going before town boards.

"A lot of public input would have to occur before anything can be done," Coyle said.

Rockingham County Corrections Superintendent Stephen Church said during the recent county meeting that providing a transitional program for those leaving the prison system has many aspects to consider when looking for a proper location. That includes what a community might be able to offer in the way of social services, health care, job opportunities and other support.

"We try to transition them into communities, into these programs," Church said, adding if those transitioning "don't have a place to lay their head," recovery and a successful release might not happen.

Church also noted there are often many misconceptions about transitional housing, but Derry seemed to have a lot of great services already in place that could offer strong support systems for those re-entering communities following time in prison.

"We want them to continue on their paths," Church said.

But Chirichiello said it's just a bad location.

"My phone has been ringing off the hook," he said. "People in these neighborhoods are extremely concerned. They don't want it."

Derry Town Councilor Joshua Bourdon said he is all about giving people a second chance with transitional programs and housing following time spent in prison.

"But it's not about that," he said. "It's about how it's been handled."

Councilor Phyllis Katsakiores, also a Derry state representative and member of the Executive Council, voiced her opposition at the recent county meeting

"People are very upset," she said. "I would never, ever support having this in the town of Derry. Put it someplace else. We will never support it."

Coyle said there is nothing "nefarious" going on as the county considers the Derry property.

"We are following the process," he said.

Councilors agreed to sign a letter opposing the move.

More discussion on the county's transitional housing plan will come in the weeks ahead prior to any decision being made.

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