A proposed regional nursing facility in Rockland would replace two existing aging facilities, including the Knox Center. Credit: Lauren Abbate | BDN

ROCKLAND, Maine ― City councilors have unanimously approved a zoning change that would allow a new $16.5 million regional nursing home to be built off Old County Road.

The facility would replace two aging assisted-living facilities in Rockland and Camden and save Pen Bay Medical Center about $2 million annually, according to the hospital’s president. The project still needs approval from the city’s planning board.

“As the population of Rockland ages, if we do not allow this to go forward, this would be a missed opportunity,” City Councilor Ben Dorr said.

Sandy River Co. plans to build a 90- to 110-bed, 65,000-square-foot facility on 28 acres located at 41 Cranberry Isles Drive off Old County Road near a residential neighborhood.

City officials will require the Portland-based developer to conduct a traffic study for the project to ease fears from neighbors who are worried about congestion. Sandy River Co. will also have to put in place sound mitigation for the facility’s heating, cooling and ventilation systems.

The new facility would replace Rockland’s Knox Center and the skilled-nursing portion of Quarry Hill in Camden. Both facilities are managed by Pen Bay Medical Center, which is operated by Coastal Healthcare Alliance.

The Knox Center was converted from a hospital to a 44-bed nursing home in 1976, but its age and design make it largely inefficient for that use, according to Coastal Healthcare Alliance President Dr. Mark Fourre.

Quarry Hill is newer, but presents many of the same logistical problems and residents have to share a room.

The new single-story facility would offer private rooms, greater patient access to outdoor space and a layout that is more conducive to providing elder care than the existing facilities, Fourre said.

Sandy River Co. ― which operates numerous nursing homes across Maine ― would also oversee the facility. Pen Bay Medical Center would staff the facility with several clinicians.