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Veterinarians pitch hospital

Representatives for Hospital Hill Veterinary Emergency LLC are expected to present their proposal to the city’s Historical Commission Monday night. They are asking the commission for a letter of support to be included in their application for state historic tax credits to renovate the 114-year-old vacant building in the middle of the former Northampton State Hospital campus.

“It’s a great location for a veterinary hospital,” said Christopher Sawyer-Laucanno, a preservation consultant working on behalf of the developers. “I think it’s a really great thing for both Northampton and certainly for pet owners.”

If successful, Drs. Michael Gay and Heather Pavlech, a husband-and-wife team who live in upstate New York, would move to the area and own the hospital, which will employ between eight and 15 people, according to paperwork filed with the city.

Gay believes there is enough demand for a new veterinary hospital in the region, especially one that serves Northampton, Amherst, Easthampton and surrounding communities. Other veterinary hospitals in the area include Veterinary Emergency & Speciality Hospital in South Deerfield and VCA Boston Road Animal Hospital in Springfield.

Gay said they were drawn to western Massachusetts because Pavlech went to college in the area. Gay works in upstate New York and Pavlech works at a speciality hospital in New Jersey.

Gay declined to discuss the project in detail, although the pair has formed Hospital Hill Veterinary Emergency LLC and is in the process of finalizing the purchase of the 15,300-square-foot building at 88 Village Hill Road from MassDevelopment, the quasi-public agency overseeing Village Hill Northampton.

“It’s just a beautiful location,” Gay said.

The $695,000 project involves converting the brick structure into a veterinary hospital on the first floor and a single-family residence on the second floor, according to paperwork filed with the city’s Office of Planning and Sustainability. A basement would be used as a workshop and storage area. Renovation of the first-floor space for the hospital would be completed first.

“It really is a shell at this point,” Sawyer-Laucanno said. “It’s a beautiful building, but it’s been neglected for many, many years.”

He said the building is in pretty good condition, considering that it does not have electricity, water, sewer or a furnace. Work in the first phase will include installing those utilities, plus fixing a leaky roof.

Although the interior of the building will be transformed to resemble a hospital with operating and examination rooms and a reception area, the exterior will not be altered except to restore some original features, documents state.

Sawyer-Laucanno said the group is applying for state and federal tax credits that could help offset the renovation costs by as much as 40 percent. Part of that process involves asking the Historical Commission for the letter of support.

The building, which is listed on the national historic register, is one of the last remaining original buildings on the state hospital campus. The Coach House was originally called “the stable” and was constructed by hospital patients to house horses and wagons. By the 1940s, the building became a garage for vehicles and equipment.

The building’s windows and door were boarded up in the 1980s. MassDevelopment began marketing the building a few years ago as its planned mixed-use Village Hill Northampton development took shape. The state agency installed a new roof, doors and a few windows, among other investments.

“There was so much great loss historically when they demolished Old Main,” Sawyer-Laucanno said. “It’s nice to see we can bring back one building in that complex.”

The veterinary hospital would join several other projects in the works or recently completed on the northern section of the former state hospital grounds, including a new 83-unit assisted-living facility called Christopher Heights.

Additionally, a two-story office building called the Gatehouse was recently completed at the entrance to the north campus. Fazzi Associates, a national home care consulting firm, is leasing space in most of that building.

Another plan presented by a pair of Boston-area developers in late 2012 to convert the former male attendants’ building into a 44-room hotel has not advanced.

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