Competing projects could jeopardize fitness facility

LEWISTON, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- Earlier this spring, John F. Murphy Homes, a non-profit organization which runs several group homes in central Maine, launched a campaign to raise $25 million to build a fitness and wellness center. The center would be designed with the needs of people with physical and intellectual disabilities in mind, but would be open to everyone in the community.

"One of the key points to achieve in having a fitness and wellness center for people with physical and intellectual disabilities is to make them feel as much a part of the community as possible, and if they can experience the use of these facilities with other people in the community, I think it serves a lot of purposes," stated Brian Vaill, a volunteer who chair's John F. Murphy Homes' fundraising campaign. "It certainly will have an impact on the people we serve in a very positive way."

Late last year, John F. Murphy Homes purchased a 25 acre parcel of land nestled on the bank of the Androscoggin River and just off of Main Street in Lewiston. They also secured zoning approval for their project.

Now they are looking to raise between $17 and $18 million dollars to construct the facility, with the additional funds being used to create an endowment to support its operations.

"Nobody said to us, 'well, wait a minute, before you go ahead and purchase this land or seek zoning, it might be a good idea to talk to these folks because there is another project that is on the board'," said Vaill.

Vaill says they learned about a proposal to build a wellness center in the old Bates Mill No. 5 building after their announcement. He says they met with a variety of community partners involved in that project, but says they were unable to reach an agreement to partner together on a single project.

"There would certainly be an overflow of clientele between the two facilities and I don't think the Auburn-Lewiston area can adequately support both projects, not the magnitude we're talking about," said Vaill.

He believes their site offers many advantages over redeveloping the mill, including lower construction costs, less time to completion, and implementing design elements to enhance the experience of people with disabilities.

"We are wide open to considering any proposal where there would be common ground, where both projects could move forward," explained Vaill.

"The only thing we are not going to compromise is to be able to take care of the folks that we handle, their special needs, we are not going to compromise on that," he added. "We want to be able to create an environment that is inclusive, not exclusive, we are not going to compromise on that, but any way we can compromise to make both projects work, we are open to it."

Peter Flanders, vice president of Grow L+A, says the non-profit group is dedicated to improving the vibrancy and economy of the community, and as part of their work, has been looking for creative ways to save the Bates Mill No. 5 building and make it into a resource for the region.

He says they have been looking into a variety of proposals over the past year and a half and envisions the mill becoming a multi-use facility with several partners focused on different aspects of health. He says the medically integrated health and wellness center they are looking into could have a food hub, nutrition counseling, and other health-focused businesses in it, in addition to the wellness center.

He says it is too early in the process to determine what the final product will become, as they are currently involved in a needs assessment study that will offer recommendations and options for them to explore moving forward.

He says he hopes the two projects can complement each other and their door remains open to all to discuss the opportunities and challenges presented.

Officials with John F. Murphy Homes say they are dedicated to moving forward with their project, and hope to continue to raise money for their facility, which would be the first of its kind in Maine.


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