NEW LIFE FOR TOBIN SITE?

County looks at the former meatpacking facility for nursing home

CAROL DEMARE STAFF WRITER
Section: Capital Region,  Page: B1

Date: Monday, February 2, 2009

ALBANY-- County officials are eyeing the site of a former meatpacking plant in Colonie as a possible location for a new county nursing home.


Deputy County Executive Michael Perrin told a meeting of the County Legislature's Nursing Home Facilities Committee late last week that the county executive's office was exploring the former Tobin Packing Co. plant on Exchange Street in the West Albany neighborhood.


Perrin plans to present the idea to the county Industrial Development Agency, which owns the Tobin property, at a Wednesday meeting, committee chairman Gary Domalewicz said Sunday.


Domalewicz called the site "a great location," right off Everett Road, close to I-90 and on a bus line that is convenient for the employees and for families to visit loved ones who reside at the home.


The county IDA, which Domalewicz chairs, purchased the property in a foreclosure sale from the federal government more than 20 years ago. Exchange Street Associates leases the property, on which there are six or seven tenants.


The current nursing home is on Albany Shaker Road near the airport. Initially, the county operated two skilled-care facilities, but a year ago, on orders from the Berger Commission that studied nursing homes and hospitals throughout the state, the county closed the Ann Lee Home.


That leaves the 250-bed Albany County Nursing Home. At one time the two facilities cared for more than 450 residents , but the Berger Commission recommended a 250-bed limit.


Also, at the direction of County Executive Mike Breslin, the county is providing seniors who prefer to live at home with more services and programs to allow that to happen.


The new nursing home also would have no more than 250 beds and the 35-acre Tobin site is more than would be needed, Domalewicz said.


It's possible part of the property could be available for retail outlets or medical offices to support a nursing facility, he said.


Three-quarters of the site is within the town of Colonie and one-quarter, the back parking area, is in the city of Albany.


At this time there is no cost for construction, Domalewicz said. Christine Benedict, the Republican minority leader of the Legislature and also a committee member, said she understood it could be as high as $68 million for 250 beds.


A new nursing home has been in the planning stage for a dozen years. Several years ago, the county was looking at the now-defunct Heritage Park in Colonie, a baseball facility, to build a $76.5 million, 450-bed nursing home. That never materialized after county officials felt the site was more valuable as commercial property.


"They need to do something," Benedict said. "Right now, the nursing home is costing us a ton of money. It's a money pit." A new state-of-the-art building would bring in more Medicaid reimbursement from the state, she said.


"Right now, we're looking at 15 to 20 million taxpayers' dollars going into the nursing home," to help subsidize it for the year, she said.


"The Tobin site, from the sounds of it, is something that could work," she said, adding that the removal of hazardous waste and asbestos could pose a problem. "I just think we're a long ways off from making the first move."


Domalewicz said Perrin talked of the availability of state grants to help offset the cost of demolition, which "was a problem with other developers who looked into" the site.


The building, which is 450,000 square feet of reinforced concrete and five stories high, would have to be imploded, he said. "You can't knock it down with a ball and crane."


He wants to move quickly to build a "first-class, state-of-the-art nursing home that will be the envy of the state, and green." He blamed the Berger Commission for holding up the county for three years.


Benedict pointed out, the special committee was formed a year ago and late last week's meeting was only the second one, "so you know there's a lot of work being done behind the scenes."


Carol DeMare can be reached at 454-5431 or by e-mail at cdemare@timesunion.com.