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Arches, Northfield assisted living facility with history of financial and safety failings, sold at auction

  • Auctioneer James St. James (left) reads the terms of the auction of The Arches Assisted living Facility in Northfield as attorney Jim Lamontagne looks towards a bidder; Wednesday, February 13, 2013.<br/>Southwest Guaranty bought the property for $500,000.<br/><br/>ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff

    Auctioneer James St. James (left) reads the terms of the auction of The Arches Assisted living Facility in Northfield as attorney Jim Lamontagne looks towards a bidder; Wednesday, February 13, 2013.
    Southwest Guaranty bought the property for $500,000.

    ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff

  • A model of a stone arch hangs on the porch of The Arches Assisted Living Facility in Northfield; Wednesday, February 13, 2013.<br/>Southwest Guaranty bought the property at auction for $500,000.<br/><br/>ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff

    A model of a stone arch hangs on the porch of The Arches Assisted Living Facility in Northfield; Wednesday, February 13, 2013.
    Southwest Guaranty bought the property at auction for $500,000.

    ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff

  • Auctioneer James St. James (left) reads the terms of the auction of The Arches Assisted living Facility in Northfield as attorney Jim Lamontagne looks towards a bidder; Wednesday, February 13, 2013.<br/>Southwest Guaranty bought the property for $500,000.<br/><br/>ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff
  • A model of a stone arch hangs on the porch of The Arches Assisted Living Facility in Northfield; Wednesday, February 13, 2013.<br/>Southwest Guaranty bought the property at auction for $500,000.<br/><br/>ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff

The Arches, a former assisted living facility in Northfield that had struggled for years to bounce back from bankruptcy and repeated safety concerns, was auctioned yesterday to the bank that had been holding its mortgage.

The Houston-based bank, Southwest Guaranty LLC, purchased the property for $500,000 – more than $2 million less than the amount it had been owed by the previous owner, Betty Ann Salchli, according to a 2011 bankruptcy filing.

The auction took place shortly before noon at the property. One other bidding team arrived to challenge the bank, but it dropped out at $300,000. According to an auction notification, the facility, which has 19 bedrooms and 11½ bathrooms, had been assessed at $889,500.

After filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization in early 2011, The Arches continued to operate until November of last year. According to the filings, Salchli owed more than $3 million to at least two dozen creditors, including $338,000 in taxes to the IRS.

In addition to its financial troubles, The Arches also had a history of failing multiple safety drills conducted by local officials dating back to 2008.

In 2010 the state forced some residents to move out of the home after they failed to evacuate their second-floor rooms during one such drill. None of the residents on the top floor made it safely downstairs during the drill; one made it to the first floor but only because she fell down the stairs.

Tilton-Northfield fire Chief Bradley Ober said in 2010 Salchli corrected the evacuation problem – residents of an assisted living facility must be able to vacate on their own within a matter of minutes – by filling the rooms with more able-bodied occupants. But he said the issue cropped up again last year after the department received a complaint filed with the state Department of Health and Human Services.

“What it comes down to is when a resident gets to a point where they can’t self-evacuate – whether because their abilities decline with age or because they never should have been admitted in the first place – then that is not okay,” Ober said. “A true assisted living facility might help with meals or medications, but the residents have to be mentally and physically able to self-evacuate.”

At licensed nursing homes, as opposed to assisted living facilities, staff members can defend against fires by placing patients in safe areas of the building. But The Arches’s early 19th century construction makes it a viable hazard because smoke and flames can spread quickly through the interior.

The evacuation issue outraged some residents and their family members, some of whom had posted scathing comments about Salchli online. Salchli was unable to be reached for this story.

Ober noted that at the time Salchli decided to close the business she had been working cooperatively with his department to once again comply with the code.

It’s not clear what will happen to the property from here. Ober said it can still be used as assisted living as long as residents meet the evacuation requirement. He also speculated that it could likely be turned into apartments or a high-end bed and breakfast.

Southwest Guaranty’s purchase is slated to close on or before March 27.

(Jeremy Blackman can be reached 369-3319 or jblackman@cmonitor.com.)

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