The Travis Mills Foundation has purchased Derby Estates, above, a 12-family apartment complex in Rome. The two buildings, located across the street from the foundation’s Veterans Retreat, will be used to expand its services, Travis Mills, founder and president, said last week. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

ROME — The Travis Mills Foundation is looking to expand the services it offers to veterans with the purchase of a nearby 12-family apartment complex.

The foundation plans to convert the 8.2-acre Derby Estates apartment complex, which consists of two buildings located across the street from the Travis Mills Foundation Veterans Retreat, into a combination of volunteer lodging and facilities for its expanding programs for veterans and first responders.

The foundation tentatively plans to expand the buildings by adding additional classrooms to be used for the Warrior PATHH program, and hopes to have the complex renovated and operational within two years, according to Travis Mills, the foundation’s president and founder.

Mills, who as an Army staff sergeant in 2012 lost all his limbs in an roadside bomb attack while serving his third tour in Afghanistan, returned to Maine to establish the foundation, which in 2017 opened the retreat center in Rome.

The PATHH program is a therapy program tailored to first responders, veterans and their families, aiming to facilitate “post-traumatic growth” among visitors to the retreat through yoga, meditation and physical therapy.

Purchasing the property will allow the foundation to nearly double the amount of people it can enroll in the PATHH program, said Heather Hemphill, the foundation’s executive director, with eight of its 12 units slated to be used by future visitors.

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Travis Mills stands on a second floor deck during a tour of the Travis Mills Foundation Veterans Retreat in Rome in 2021. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file

The remaining four units will be used for volunteer lodging, which the foundation hopes will alleviate concerns about attracting new volunteer workers.

Mills said the foundation had initially planned to build tiny homes on the property.

“We had planned to do like three tiny homes and like three spots for campers to be, but the neighbors weren’t very pleased about that,” Mills said. “We were looking to expand the PATHH program because there’s a need for it.”

The 11 families leasing apartments at Derby Estates were not notified of the sale until after it was finalized in early April, when the foundation mailed residents notices saying they had until April 30, 2025, to find a new place to live.

The complex’s previous owners, Guerrette Properties, did not notify tenants that they were looking to sell the property, Mills said, nor did they inform tenants after it sold.

Derby Estates was never publicly listed for sale, and the property’s sale price remains undisclosed. Mills said the sale came about through a friend of a friend.

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“We didn’t go looking for it, the property,” Mills said last week. “I know that some of the tenants were like, ‘I can’t believe they didn’t tell us,’ but in my mind that should have been on the person that owned the building.”

Efforts to contact Derby Estates residents were unsuccessful. Guerrette Properties, the complex’s former owner, did not respond to requests for comment.

Tenants’ existing leases are being honored, and in some cases extended, in order to give residents ample time to find new housing, according to Hemphill.

Maine law, she notes, only requires landlords provide 30 days’ notice before an eviction rather than the year the foundation has offered.

“We’ve given them a year, recognizing that the housing market is quite challenging here,” Hemphill said. “If you have a year or eight months to be able to find an alternative solution, I feel like that’s a gentler solution than being like, ‘Hey, 30 days and you’re out of here.'”

The foundation is struggling to entice and accommodate new volunteers, Hemphill said, in part due to the retreat’s rural nature, a lack of on-site accommodations and a small pool of qualified individuals. The foundation hopes to alleviate such concerns with the addition of both workforce and visitor lodging.

With the purchase of the Derby Estates, Hemphill said the foundation has no future plans to expand its veterans retreat in Rome. The foundation previously expanded the retreat’s facilities in late 2022, adding a $7 million, 9,800-square-foot health and wellness center with an indoor pool, exercise rooms and outdoor patio space.

Both of the Derby Estates buildings are several decades old and will be renovated once tenants’ leases expire, Hemphill said.

“It’s pretty old, so we’re trying to make sure it meets our standard,” Hemphill said. “We are trying really hard to be good stewards of donors’ money that we’re so grateful for.”

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