The Guild for Human Services will sponsor up to 14 residents, as well as adults who are on-site at all times, at 245 Concord Road and 321 Old Billerica Road.
The children currently are at the Crotched Mountain Rehabilitation Center in Greenfield, NH, which will soon close its day and residential school.
Dr. Amy Sousa, CEO of the guild, said the children will be transported in vans daily to a special education school the agency operates in an office park off Virginia Road near Hanscom Field.
They are targeting December, though “it really depends on inspections and the approval process,” Sousa said. “As soon as we get occupancy, we are ready to go. We have to make sure they are accessible for people who have difficulty with ambulation.”
There are no zoning issues. Bedford Planning Director Tony Fields said state law mandates that group homes authorized by state health departments be treated like single-family residences.
Bedford also won’t be liable for the educational expenses of these new residents, according to Julie Kirrane, the finance director for the Bedford Public Schools. “The location of student housing is not a factor. The sending districts are fiscally responsible,” she explained. Most of the young people are from Massachusetts.
There wasn’t any advance notice from Crotched Mountain, Sousa related. “We got a wave of referrals because we are a similar program.”
Locating available houses in Bedford was systematic, she said. “We have 19 homes, and we work with a realtor who knows what our students need and identifies residences close to our school building.”
Guild programs are for children between the ages of 6 and 21. Sousa said. One of the Bedford houses will accommodate six girls, all around middle school age. The other will be home for up to eight.
“All of our residences are staffed at a one-to-three ratio, at least,” Sousa reported. There’s also a manager during the day and an assistant manager in the evening. The students have access to the clinicians needed to enhance their quality of life, she said, including physical and speech therapists.
The Guild uses eight-passenger vans to transport residences to the school. “We don’t look different from any house on the block,” the director said.
“Opening new homes during a pandemic is not a financial windfall,” Sousa acknowledged. “We are investing some of our endowment resources to buy these beautiful buildings.” The annual fee per student – every day, 24 hours a day – is $306,000.
The main school building relocated in 2016 from Waltham to a 60-000-square-foot facility with outdoor play space in Concord. “Our children have difficulty with mobility. Our classrooms need to be significantly larger than most,” Sousa said. “Our mission is all about service delivery.”
Chris Laskey, the town’s code enforcement officer, said he is aware of the Guild’s acquisitions but has yet to see specific renovation plans.
He said the precautions in response to the pandemic should not affect the work of inspectors. This year “we have had no problems with general building, plumbing, and electrical inspections.” Approvals are also required from state regulatory agencies.
The Guild uses community-based residences rather than self-contained compounds, Sousa noted. “As adults, we don’t live on 400-acre campuses. We live in homes, and we teach those skills to children so they can be community members.”
The two house managers, she continued, plan to reach out and introduce the students to neighbors, once it is safe. During a pandemic, “it’s hard to know how to make new friends I’m always glad to talk to community members.”
Sousa explained that “our students have intellectual disabilities, a variety of different challenges with processing information, speech, and communication.” Some of the young people used what she called “augmentative communication devices,” such as the one identified with the late theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking.
Some students “don’t necessarily respond in ways to which most people are accustomed—it’s a wonderful way for all of us to learn.”
The director, who has worked in the human services field for 25 years, said that a planned open house at the Concord school had to be canceled because of the arrival of Covid-19. “We had collaborated with Artists for Humanity and worked with students on some really beautiful murals,” she lamented.
Mike Rosenberg can be reached at email@example.com, or 781-983-1763
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