As the Switzerland County Commissioners continue their discussions on what to do — if anything — with the Jack Sullivan Senior Citizens Center on Walnut Street in Vevay, five different entities have submitted proposals to take over the building should the commissioners decide to dispose of it.
At the core of the county’s decision, and the decisions of the five entities, is the future of the Senior Mealsite program. Currently the mealsite is held at the Senior Center daily, providing lunch as well as activities for the county’s senior citizens, and depending on which offer is accepted, the mealsite will either stay where it is or move to another location in Vevay.
At the Commissioners meeting on Monday, April 1st, five proposals were submitted prior to the Friday, March 29th deadline: Jeff-Craig Fire and Rescue; Lattice Biologics; Switzerland County Tourism; the Town of Vevay; and the Vevay VFW Post #5396.
At that time the commissioners said that they would take the matter and the proposals under advisement, and if they decided to move forward, the list would be pared down to finalists, which would then meet with the commissioners to discuss their proposal in more depth.
The commissioners also have options: they could give the building away; or they could sell it. If the county decides to sell the building, they must obtain at least three appraisals, with the average of those three appraisals serving as the lowest that the county could go in accepting an offer. The other option is that the county simply decides to continue ownership of the building.
With those things in mind, here is a look at the five proposals (listed alphabetically):
Jeff-Craig Fire and Rescue
In its proposal, Jeff-Craig Fire and Rescue is offering to take ownership of the building should the county decide to give it away. The department would then move several of its operations to the building and away from its current firehouse on Ferry Street at the foot of Vevay Hill.
Under the fire department’s proposal, the Senior Mealsite would remain in the building.
“Basically just everything we do at the firehouse, we would do at the Jack Sullivan Center,” Fire Chief Chris See said. “There’s a big push out there right now for the carcinogens that firefighters are exposed to. Effective this year, they say that cancer is the leading cause of firefighter deaths, which overtook heart attacks. We’re just trying to limit exposure to the carcinogens that are in our truck bays.”
See said that the department has spoken to LifeTime Resources and have assured them that should Jeff-Craig take the building over, the mealsite would be left as it is.
“They’d be more than welcome to stay there and continue to have their meals,” See said. “We’d love to have them in it. It wouldn’t affect our use of the building at all.”
See said that the department would use the building for training as well as providing space for benefits that groups need to have in the community. It would also be available for private rentals, as it has been in the past. It would also allow the department to be better able to serve meals during an emergency, as well as provide other services should the need arise.
“As far as insurance, we’ve already talked with our insurance company, and it’s not going to be a huge cost to us,” See said. “We’ve looked at our finances, and we can tack on the maintenance and upkeep of that building, and it’s not going to cause us to have to go and request more money from the county or anything. We can do it with the money that we’re given currently.”
Jeff-Craig Fire and Rescue currently receives Riverboat Revenue, and also has contracts for services with Jefferson Township, Craig Township, and the Town of Vevay.
“We just hated to see it get changed,” See said. “We just want to utilize it for what it currently is, a community center. A place where people can come and meet. We don’t have any intentions of changing the layout or anything. It would just be a community center and fire hall.”
Lattice Biologics is a proposal from a private industry, which was submitted to the commissioners by Rick Daugherty. It would initially provide about 10 jobs in the county; with an expansion of as many as 20 jobs in the future. Because of the nature of the work, the Senior Mealsite would have to relocate, and the building would no longer be available for private events.
The company is owned by Guy Cook, a longtime friend and college roommate of Daugherty’s who moved to Bozeman, Montana and in his work he created a medical device that — when he sold the company — made Cook a very rich man. From that, he created Lattice Biologics, which deals in the cleaning and selling of stem cells for medical field. The company currently is outgrowing its current facilities in Bozeman; and Cook and Daugherty see the Senior Center as a place where the business could expand to a second location.
Daugherty said that the lab that would be created here isn’t like a typical lab where a person could install some lab hoods and start doing the work. He said that the lab would be state of the art, with those working in the lab wearing special protective suits to order to make sure that everything that goes on there is completely sterile and medically ready.
“It’s high purity,” he said. “It’s the air handling system that’s so expensive, so nothing gets contaminated while it’s being cleaned, Daugherty said.
Cook was here to help Daugherty celebrate his birthday in November, and after a tour of the town, Cook’s thinking that Vevay might be a good place to locate that expansion.
The lab itself would be located on the south side of the current building, where the senior mealsite is now; while the room on the north side of the building would be turned into a wellness center; so that the company could sell the stem cells on site, hoping to get the stem cells into the hands of those who need them for rehabilitation and healing without prioritizing medical markups. The wellness center would house medical staff, but they would work for Lattice, providing patients with care and advise on the products.
Between the lab and the wellness center, Daugherty believes that as many as 20 jobs for Switzerland County residents could be created; and he also notes with the company expected to run $2-$3 million out of a lab here in the first year, that’s also handing a pretty good tax base to the town and the county.
Switzerland County Tourism Executive Director Lacey Ekberg said that the proposal that her office gave to the commissioners not only maintains what’s already going on at the Senior Center, it enhances the possibilities of the building and the community in general.
Tourism’s proposal is to maintain the facility as a place for the mealsite and senior activities, as well as continuing to make the senior center available for private rentals and activities as it is needed by members of the community.
“We would keep it as an event center,” Ekberg said. “The seniors are in there from 1-2:20 p.m. We can still have meetings we can still have parties. It’s open on the weekends. It would be marketed and it would be used.”
Ekberg said that Tourism is committed to keeping the Visitors Center in the old Phoenix Hotel on the corner of Main and Liberty streets — and ironically the past home of Sullivan’s Pharmacy, which the current Jack Sullivan Senior Citizens Center operated for decades.
“We’re looking at turning the hotel — obviously we’re going to keep the Visitors Center in there, but I can put in five small retail spaces in there. I will furnish the sales team,” Ekberg said. “If someone wants to come in and has a locally made product and have their space there, that’s what we’re looking to do on the first floor.”
Ekberg said that on the second floor of the current building, a business incubator is envisioned. She says that if someone wanting to start a business wants to put an office up on the second floor of the Phoenix Hotel, it can be done at a very reasonable rental.
“The third floor, right now, we’re looking at either turning into loft apartments, or back into an 1860s hotel,” Ekberg said. “We’re looking at doing a full renovation on this building.”
Ekberg said that if Tourism takes ownership of the Senior Center, she would then operate with a split crew, with part of her staff at the current location running the Visitors Center and the retail shops while most of the administration would take place at the senior center.
“I can get money to finish out that kitchen at the senior center and turn it into a commercial kitchen, and we could have a kitchen incubator,” she said. “I have people here in town who have a food product who are having to go to Madison to use a commercial kitchen. It can be done — so let’s do it.”
Town of Vevay
For the Town of Vevay, moving the town hall from its current location in the old Carnegie Library building on Ferry Street to the Senior Center is largely about one thing — access.
The current location requires town residents and other who have business with the town to climb outside steps to gain access, so moving town programs to the Senior Center, which is all on one level, would make daily operations for residents much easier.
If obtained, the town would renovate the current mealsite area to a place for the police department; while the meeting room on the north side of the building would be the offices of the clerk-treasurer. The mealsite would have to relocate if the town gets ownership of the building — but that may not be immediate, as the town council sees the move from one spot to another as a move that could take up to five years.
“On our proposal, we’re talking about the move taking one to five years, only because we’ve got to make sure we’ve got the money,” Town Board President Keith Smith said. “We’re going to have to put a new roof on it, and then we’re going to have to go in and redo the one side where the kitchen and dining area is at. We would split that off to make offices for our police department and have rooms for evidence and things like that. There’s going to have to be a lot of electrical work that’s going to have to be done for that. A lot of work in general, so we didn’t want to put ourselves in a spot where we’d take it over and then jump right into it. We don’t want to put ourselves in that financial spot.”
Smith said that if the town hall does move to the new site, the town would then put the current building up for sale, which could move up the timeline for relocation, but would provide funds to help with the renovations.
“If that happened (a sale) quickly, we’d have to work with whoever was going to buy it,” Smith said. “They would have to know that we would need to get everything in line over at the new town hall before we could leave the building that we have right now.”
Smith thinks that the town of Vevay taking ownership of the building is a positive move for everyone involved.
“Number one, it would make the town hall ADA compliant,” Smith said. “We definitely need the space for our police department, and it would be great for storage of materials and files. It would be great for parking, and it would still be central to the town, where people wouldn’t have to be looking for town hall. It’s just a good fit for the town.”
VFW Post #5396
August Dauel of the local VFW Post #5396 says that the organization would move its post home from its current location at the corner of Seminary and Vineyard streets to the Senior Center.
If the VFW is successful, they would have no issue with the senior mealsite remaining at the location.
“We’re throwing our hat in the ring and saying that we’d like to be considered for acquiring that building from the county for the purpose of becoming the VFW Canteen and Meeting and Community Building,” Dauel said. “We’re a community-based veterans organization, for veterans, in support of our communities and our veterans throughout the different wars. We’re very limited in the building that we have at the building that we have down on Seminary Street, because of its age and the staircase to the meeting room on the second floor and the aging of the average VFW member. Our oldest member is 93.”
Dauel said that if the VFW is given the opportunity to take over the building, the facility all being on one floor would be important; and he noted that the local VFW organization here is the longest serving organization to the community when compared to the other proposals.
“We hope to enhance our capabilities of being a part of the community; and not just a smaller, little canteen for the purpose of the membership,” he said.
And the mealsite can be a part of their planning.
“We said that we would work with the county on that, knowing that they had been there for a long, long time,” Dauel said. “We had no reason to say that we wouldn’t support that.”
Dauel said that because the VFW is a limited membership organization — about 130 members here — there wouldn’t be any need for the organization to have two buildings, so he believes that the VFW would put the current location up for sale. In order to qualify for membership in the VFW, a person must have served in a true, recognized combat area that is recognized by the government.
“We’re trying to expand the ability for us to actually work with our community — Vevay — and work for our veterans,” Dauel said.