Keene ZBA OKs new hospital residency at former Peerless building

Caleb Symons, The Keene Sentinel, N.H.
·2 min read

Apr. 21—The Keene Zoning Board of Adjustment has approved Cheshire Medical Center's plan to create a primary care residency program at the former Peerless Insurance building on Maple Avenue.

In a hearing Tuesday night, zoning board members voted 5-0 to grant the hospital a special exception to use the vacant 62 Maple Ave. site for a new family medicine residency, in addition to other clinical and administrative operations.

Cheshire Medical Center, the local Dartmouth-Hitchcock Healthcare affiliate, had already agreed to acquire the property, but the deal was conditional on receiving a special exception from the zoning board, attorney Jason Reimers told the board Tuesday. Keene's zoning code requires that any institutional use on Maple Avenue, like a health care facility, receive this exception.

Cheshire Medical CEO Dr. Don Caruso told the zoning board that the hospital needs more primary care physicians to meet local residents' health care demands.

Citing data that show more than half of physicians nationwide work within 100 miles of their training site, he said the residency — which would include a training program and a family medicine practice staffed by faculty — would benefit both the Keene area and the entire state. New Hampshire currently has two family medicine residencies, in Concord and Exeter, according to Caruso.

He and Kathryn Willbarger, the hospital's chief operating officer, also said acquiring the former Peerless building would reduce overcrowding at their main campus on Court Street. Cheshire Medical has proposed relocating clinical practices such as physical and occupational therapy as well as pediatrics to 62 Maple Ave., in addition to administration offices and a day care center for employees' children.

"Without that additional space, Cheshire Medical Center will be challenged to meet the needs of our aging community," Willbarger said.

The hospital must also receive site-plan approval from the planning board, according to Keene's zoning administrator, John Rogers.

Cheshire Medical would begin using the 143,000-square-foot building "in the very near future" if it's acquired, Caruso and Willbarger told the zoning board in a March 19 letter.

Liberty Mutual Insurance, which purchased Peerless in 1999, sold the Maple Avenue property last July to a limited-liability company that shares an address with the Connecticut real estate investment firm Twenty Lake Holdings LLC.

Caleb Symons can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1420, or csymons@keenesentinel.com. Follow him on Twitter @CalebSymonsKS.