Heather Somers gets tour of Witherell’s Project Renew revitalization

Heather Somers, lieutenant governor candidate, recently toured The Nathaniel Witherell, where she met, at left, with Executive Director Allen Brown. First Selectman Peter Tesei and state Sen. L. Scott Frantz, in background, were also a part of the tour. –Ken Borsuk

Heather Somers, lieutenant governor candidate, recently toured The Nathaniel Witherell, where she met, at left, with Executive Director Allen Brown. First Selectman Peter Tesei and state Sen. L. Scott Frantz, in background, were also a part of the tour. –Ken Borsuk

For gubernatorial candidate Tom Foley, Greenwich is home turf. But for his running mate, former Groton mayor Heather Somers, it’s new territory. So last week she took a campaign tour through town.

The stops for the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor took her to Cunningham Auto Body Shop in Byram and Green & Tonic in Cos Cob, but the main part of her trip to town was a tour of The Nathaniel Witherell. The town-run nursing and rehabilitation center is in the last stages of its Project Renew renovation, completely transforming the interior of the facility, and she got a first-hand look of the progress as she was led on the tour by Executive Director Allen Brown and other officials there.

Speaking to the Post before the tour, Ms. Somers said she wanted to see a variety of area businesses and hear what they would like to see in a potential Foley/Somers administration. And while Witherell is not a typical business, she said she was eager to find out more on her first trip to the facility.

“We want to know how we can make their lives easier and change the business climate to help provide opportunities in Connecticut,” Ms. Somers said. “I’ve learned a lot on these tours throughout the state. I have a manufacturing background and it’s been enlightening to see how many different manufacturers of different types of products are dealing with all the regulations and the troubles they have here in Connecticut. That’ll help us make smarter policy.”

Ms. Somers said these tours were mostly a chance for her to listen, and Witherell had been suggested as a place that she should visit while in Greenwich.

“Politicians do an awful lot of talking and I’m a good listener so I want to learn as much as I can,” Ms. Somers said. “Maybe this will end up being a model for something we can use in another part of the state. Unless you’re willing to listen and learn as much as you can you’re not going to know that.”

Ms. Somers was joined on the tour by First Selectman Peter Tesei, State Sen. L. Scott Frantz (R-36th) and State Reps. Livvy Floren (R-149th) and Fred Camillo (R-151st). Michael Bocchino, running as a Republican in the 150th District, was also on hand making this an all hands on deck campaign stop for the party but also a chance for everyone to get a look at the revitalized Nathaniel Witherell. Mr. Brown led everyone through the short-term rehabilitation center, the new and improved exercise rooms and the dining facilities.

Most of the major work on Project Renew is complete and Mr. Brown said there were only a few things to be done before the facility got its permanent certificate of occupancy from the town. A temporary one is in place but the work is practically complete. The members of the Hartford delegation marveled at the changes to the town-owned facility, which is one of the last of its kind in the state. Mr. Frantz, Mr. Camillo and Ms. Floren have all been strong supporters of Nathaniel Witherell, which had to go through a lot to get to this point and has easily crossed party lines in town and in state government.

While an earlier certificate of need for the renovation had to be withdrawn by former Gov. M. Jodi Rell after the economic downturn, one of Gov. Dannel Malloy’s first acts in office was to approve the certificate of need, allowing the project to move forward with an increased state contribution for Medicare costs. At Thursday’s tour, one of his opponents in the November election had a chance to see the progress made and said senior issues would be a focus of a Foley/Somers administration too.

“The town of Greenwich obviously really appreciates this facility,” Ms. Somers said after the tour. “This is different than what I’ve seen in any other town. I think that’s a great testament to the town of Greenwich. You don’t see that in many other towns at all… Seniors are, for me, very, very important. They’re one of the reasons why I’m running. I have family members that are aging and I know this administration wants to make it affordable so that seniors can stay in Connecticut and they can retire here and move on to facilities like this in Connecticut. We absolutely see seniors as a priority.”

An open house for the community to show off the work of Project Renew and celebrate the accomplishment is scheduled for Tuesday, Oct. 14, at 5.

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