By Chea Waters Evans
The Charlotte Family Health Center (CFHC) opened in 1975. Since then, generations of patients have been treated there, experiencing small-town health care in a manner that could soon be a thing of the past.
Prospects for the CFHC remaining in town are precarious due to financial issues that could potentially be alleviated by action from the Selectboard. Dr. Andrea Regan, a physician at the health center, attended Monday’s Selectboard meeting to reiterate a request to lease septic used for town public buildings to facilitate the construction of a new health center building.
The doctors who run the center argue that two important cornerstones of community living are good health care and good child care, and those two services are currently limited because of septic issues in the town.
Regan grew up in Hinesburg, attended Champlain Valley Union High School and moved back to the area to start her practice locally. She spoke Monday night at the Selectboard meeting, asking that the town consider allowing CFHC to lease septic use from the town should she and her partner build a new office building.
The land for the new office hasn’t been purchased yet; in order for the project to proceed, several factors need to be in place, one of which is the issue of adequate septic. The proposed site for the new facility is on Ferry Road in the center of the west village, behind the fire station and the Charlotte Children’s Center (CCC). The CCC is a key ally for the CFHC in this project. Though other issues, like an access road and wetlands, are at play, the main hurdle at this point in the process is septic capacity.
Regan said that the daycare center and preschool could share a septic system with the new medical building, or both could cost effectively join the septic system for town buildings.
Currently, the Children’s Center regularly turns down new families because it doesn’t have adequate septic to legally accept more children.
Jeff Herzberger, the chair of the CCC board of directors, said that the board has two primary goals: to increase the number of students at the center and to pay the teachers at the school a more competitive wage. “Our center enrollment is currently limited by our own septic system capacity, and we could accept additional students from our extensive wait-list if it weren’t for this limitation,” he said. “Adding additional children to our center will enable us to increase teacher salaries, allowing our amazing teachers to thrive with better wages while working in this great environment,” he added.
Septic and wastewater have been ongoing struggles for parts of Charlotte, and the town buildings have not only adequate systems but have larger capacities than current use requires.
At Monday’s Selectboard meeting, Regan said she was there formally on behalf of the CFHC and informally as a mouthpiece for the children’s center; her son attends daycare there, and she has been working closely with the center on the septic issue. She asked the town to consider allowing the CCC and CFHS to lease septic use. She argued that it wouldn’t be an extra expense for taxpayers, but would rather be recouping money that was already spent.
“It’s a lease, on their terms,” she said. People in town often have the misconception that town money would be spent if the septic were shared, but that’s not the case, she said. “They think that they’re giving us something, but we have to pay maintenance fees, we’re paying what is definitely a fair price, and this is money that the town has spent. They’re recouping $40,000 to $60,000 of money that’s already been spent.”
Regan said during Monday’s meeting that she needs to move forward soon with expansion plans, and that she could, in theory, be ready to begin work on the project in earnest within four months. Time, however, is moving based on town schedules—the Wastewater Committee meets on Monday, July 15 at 3:30 p.m. and again on July 29 at 5:30 p.m.
The Wastewater Committee is presenting a plan next week, but committee member Christina Booher cautioned at the Selectboard meeting on Monday that though the commission will present its recommendations, the Selectboard ultimately has control over what happens next. “The Selectboard has not accepted it, they have not approved it, and they can alter and change numbers and everything else,” she said to Regan, “so I just want you to be prepared that what we present at the end of the month does not mean that is what’s going to become policy…. It’s not set in stone until the five of them make that vote.”
Planning Commision Chair Peter Joslin, who is the commission’s liaison with the Wastewater Committee, was also at Monday’s Selectboard meeting. He said, “I’d be talking out of school to say it’s going to be approved, but I think that everybody’s done their homework; it looks very good.” He went on to say, “I think this speaks to a bigger issue in the town…in terms of the affordability issue, whether it’s a private home or whether it’s a business, I think most people in town really want to keep them here. It’s to everyone’s benefit to have medical staff in town.”
Selectboard Chair Matt Krasnow echoed this sentiment. “I also agree that this is at the crux of growth for Charlotte,” he said. “The service that the health center provides is an essential service to any town, and we’re lucky to have it; that you want to come closer to the village center is admirable.” He said that the town will do what it can to expedite the decision process.
Regan said during the meeting that she has had nothing but support from the town, and that she is optimistic despite the challenges. “The town has been amazingly supportive, and I recognize there are a lot of unique barriers here.”