Farren public forum revisits timeline, building condition

  • The vacant Farren Care Center on Montague City Road in Montague. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • The vacant Farren Care Center on Montague City Road in Montague. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Roughly 100 demonstrators attended a rally at the Farren Care Center on Christmas Eve to advocate for the now-vacant facility to be used to house the homeless during the winter. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • Roughly 100 demonstrators attended a rally at the Farren Care Center on Christmas Eve to advocate for the now-vacant facility to be used to house the homeless during the winter. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 2/8/2022 5:55:56 PM
Modified: 2/8/2022 5:54:14 PM

MONTAGUE — Town officials held their Farren Care Center public outreach meeting Monday, concluding with a plan to ask Trinity Health to affirm its gifting of the land and potentially fund a redevelopment study, should the buildings be demolished.

The forum was hosted by the Selectboard, Historical Commission, Town Administrator Steve Ellis and Town Planner Walter Ramsey with a focus on discussing Trinity Health’s recommendation to demolish the Montague City Road building.

The panel opened with Ellis providing a timeline of communication between the town and Trinity Health of New England, the Farren’s parent company. Ramsey then presented visuals of the property layout and building interior. Finally, Ramsey and Selectboard Chair Rich Kuklewicz moderated public discussion in which residents had two-minute windows to contribute questions or comments.

The long-term care facility was closed early last year, having essentially merged with a similar facility in Holyoke called Mount Saint Vincent Care Center. All of the Farren’s 105 residents were reportedly offered space at the Holyoke facility. Trinity Health has maintained that the Montague City Road building was too old for its purposes and would be too expensive to update to modern standards.

The timeline Ellis presented began in February 2018, when a state bond bill included $30 million for Farren improvements. Ellis next acknowledged the November 2019 meeting in which sustainability of the Farren was brought into question before recalling the facility’s closing, steps in the building assessment process, developments regarding Trinity Health’s demolition recommendation and more. The timeline’s in-depth mapping of talks between the two parties was timely, given the collective public feeling of not having enough information regarding communication from Trinity Health.

For some residents, however, it wasn’t timely enough. Resident Ariel Elan said while “that kind of information eliminates that disconnect,” knowing the magnitude of communication as it was happening would have been beneficial.

Ramsey’s summary of the 9-acre, three-parcel property included a look at its Central Business District zoning background, ages of the property’s building sections, and interior shots of both the original 1900 building and the 1965 addition.

Peter Hudyma, who introduced himself as a former maintenance department worker at the Farren, contributed his thoughts to compliment Ramsey’s presentation, claiming the facility was “decrepit” even when he was working there 25 years ago.

“It was no small effort (to maintain). … Even then, it was really in rough shape,” he said. “A really second-class place to work.”

Hudyma went on to express his belief that Trinity Health officials had not been exaggerating in their condition assessment.

Instead of releasing the condition assessment to the town as requested, Trinity Health gave a brief overview of highlights, including the scope of work and critical findings. The list includes improvement costs for severely eroded mortar joints and water infiltration damage estimated at $1.5 million, exterior window replacement estimated at $500,000, roof replacement estimated at $2 million, flooring replacement expected to cost $3 million, mechanical upgrades estimated at $4 million, electrical work estimated at $3.9 million and plumbing upgrades expected to cost $1.7 million.

Hudyma said he would rather see the land become a park than have the town preserve it as an energy-inefficient facility that it has no “rational need” for.

“I don’t see it as something the town wants to take on,” he said.

During the public discussion portion of the meeting, residents largely expressed opinions and concerns that had already been aired at prior Selectboard meetings, with the bulk of contributions coming in support of pushing for building reuse.

“There are a lot of other considerations,” Leyden resident Jerry Lund said, “but we have a housing crisis that is beyond catastrophic.”

“We have many, many needs in Montague City,” said Lilith Wolinsky, a Town Meeting member, Montague City Improvement Association founder and Montague City resident. “We don’t have a place to buy a stick of butter, a newspaper.”

Christopher Sawyer-Lauçanno, an author who taught architecture and writing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for 25 years, said he and historian Janel Nockleby had “pretty much finished” paperwork to document the Farren as a historic building, in hopes of potentially giving the town another avenue to preserve it. Both expressed a desire for Montague officials to pursue an independent building assessment or reuse study.

While they were unable to make a decision that would directly influence the fate of the building following Monday’s discussion, the Selectboard requested Ellis facilitate discussion with Trinity Health to ensure the town is properly equipped to redevelop the plot of land should the structures be demolished.

“I think the ask I would like to see from Trinity … is to request funds from them to do a study of redevelopment from that site,” Kuklewicz added.

“I remain at the position that I’m not sure what this board can do right now,” Selectboard Clerk Matt Lord said. “I think a lot of it is up to the private owners.”

Reach Julian Mendoza at 413-772-0261, ext. 261 or jmendoza@recorder.com.


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