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Claremont domestic, sexual abuse nonprofit plans office expansion

CLAREMONT - A nonprofit group that supports survivors of domestic and sexual violence in Sullivan County plans to break ground on a $1.41 million office expansion this fall.

The Turning Points Network, which has served survivors from its School Street office since 1985, is slated to go out to bid next month for the renovation of a former CPA office on Broad Street in Claremont.

The organization, which offers a 24-hour crisis and support line, emergency shelter, court advocacy, safety planning and peer counseling, among other services, has outgrown its current space and cannot expand further in its School Street location, Turning Points development director Jennifer Ucci said in an email.

"Over the years, as services and staffing have continued to expand, the office, unfortunately, has not," she said.

Due to the lack of space, Ucci said, the organization, which also has a Newport office, has had to delay plans to expand services, including adding a child advocate and in-house legal services. It also does not currently have space to teach financial literacy classes or bring in community partners for its workforce development program. Future goals also include hiring a master licensed drug and alcohol counselor to work with survivors who also struggle with addiction.

"Expansion of our physical footprint, increasing the capacity to expand and provide services, as well as improving upon the current lack of privacy will exponentially improve the overall experience for, and safety of, survivors," Ucci said.

Once complete, the Broad Street project will allow the organization to nearly double its footprint from the 3,100-square-foot space it currently occupies on School Street to 6,000 square feet on Broad Street. The late John Pierzchala, the CPA who owned the accounting practice, and his wife, Carolyn, who lives in New London, donated the building to Turning Points in 2018.

Once renovated, the space is expected to include three floors of finished office space, conference and meeting rooms, a handicapped-accessible elevator and restrooms, a kitchen, a new reception area, modern security systems and keyed entryways, energy-efficient heating, cooling and electrical systems, as well as an accessible parking lot, Ucci said.

White River Junction-base architect Frank Barrett Jr. has donated his time to modify and expand the existing layout of the 1850s-era building. Ucci said the goal is to retain "much of the charm" of that era and maintain the "stately presence" of the neighborhood. To do so, the current plans include razing the building's ell and attached barn, and in their place, constructing a new, two-story addition while also modifying and updating the existing structure.

Turning Points is set to receive $468,000 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to support the project, according to a news release last week from New Hampshire's congressional delegation. The funds will come in the form of a federal loan of $332,000, a grant of $59,700 from the Community Facilities Direct Loan & Grant Program and a $76,300 Economic Impact Initiative Grant.

The project also has gotten support from the Community Development Finance Authority, the Northern Border Regional Commission, Jane’s Trust, Mascoma Savings Bank Foundation and The Couch Family Foundation, as well as private and corporate donations, Ucci said.

"Providing survivors of domestic and sexual violence with the assistance they need as they heal and seek justice must continue to be a priority in this nation," said U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., in last Friday’s release. "This is especially critical amid this pandemic, which has made it more difficult for survivors to access resources and support services."

Social isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic has forced survivors to stay in close proximity to their abusers, giving them fewer opportunities to get away or reach out for support, Ucci said. The pandemic also has exacerbated the challenges of finding affordable housing and pandemic-related job losses have resulted in survivors losing income, she said.

"Close quarters and economic strain have exacerbated incidents of violence," she said.

In addition, in some cases, the pandemic has meant that abusers fail, following visits, to return children to survivors, Ucci said. Turning Points advocates have helped survivors to get their children back. The organization also has begun offering support through text and chat, giving survivors other ways to reach out for help.

The plan is to go out to bid for the Broad Street project next month and to break ground in October or November, Ucci said. Once complete, perhaps by late next summer, the organization plans to relocate there and to put its School Street building up for sale, she said.