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State accepts $7M from feds for Crotched Mountain School

Keene Sentinel - 7/1/2023

Jul. 1—The N.H. Executive Council on Wednesday accepted $7 million in federal COVID-relief money for Crotched Mountain School in Greenfield, which serves young people with autism and other disabilities.

The money is intended to allow the school to make necessary improvements to increase student enrollment, state Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut told the council.

Work is needed on heating and cooling systems, roofs, roads, parking lots, staff buildings, therapy pools and classrooms, he said.

A contract governing how the money would be spent will be presented to the Executive Council for its consideration at a later meeting to be determined. The five-member council, which shares executive power with the governor, approves receipt and expenditure of state and federal funds.

The pandemic led to a sharp decline in staffing and the student population at the school, causing it to lose more than $7 million and leading its facilities to fall into disrepair, Edelblut said.

Massachusetts-based Seven Hills Foundation, a nonprofit human services organization, purchased the 125-acre campus, which contains 31 buildings, last November from Gersh Autism and has been working to make improvements. The month before the sale, Gersh announced it would be closing the school due to staffing problems.

Before voting to accept the federal money, some of the councilors sought assurances from Edelblut that the funds would be spent wisely.

Executive Councilor Cinde Warmington, D-Concord, whose district takes in much of the Monadnock Region, asked Edelblut if he was confident that Seven Hills "can't flip it and take the profit" after it receives the money.

"We're going to make sure that the investments we make result in assets that get placed in service, and that they get placed in service to the benefit of New Hampshire residents for an appropriate amount of time, so that they are not flipped in a real estate deal or something like that," Edelblut said.

He told Warmington her concerns would be addressed in the contract he will draft with input from the Executive Council.

Edelblut said the school is licensed to serve 105 students in residence, but is able to serve only 26 until its facilities are improved.

Gov. Chris Sununu urged the Executive Council on Wednesday to accept the federal money without delay, in part for the peace of mind of the families with children who attend or who might attend in the future.

"Right now there are 26, but there's more like 50 to 60 families that are very interested in knowing this is going forward," he said. "I think they are scared to death that their kids are going to have to go out of state."

Seven Hills Foundation's website states it has 235 health and human service locations in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and eight countries.

Crotched Mountain School serves students ages 6 to 21, the majority of whom have an autism diagnosis.

"We specialize in communication disorders and pride ourselves on helping students —regardless of ability — achieve maximum independence to live a great life in the community," the school says on its website.

Rick Green can be reached at rgreen@keeneSentinel.com or 603-355-8567.

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