Montague Selectboard seeks more info on proposal to demolition Farren Care Center

  • The Farren Care Center on Montague City Road in Montague closed earlier this year. Staff File Photo/Paul Franz

Staff Writer
Published: 11/30/2021 5:26:44 PM
Modified: 11/30/2021 5:26:12 PM

MONTAGUE — Discussion about Trinity Health New England’s recommendation to demolish the Farren Care Center continued at Monday’s Selectboard meeting, resulting in added motivation to reconvene with the organization.

Monday’s meeting centered primarily around public comment and response from town officials to the company’s recommendation, which was brought to the Selectboard Nov. 8. The Selectboard abstained from making any further decisions until conferring with Trinity Health.

The Selectboard and Town Administrator Steve Ellis opened the conversation by reflecting on the collective shock that resulted from Nov. 8’s announcement.

“That was really the first time I heard the community really pause and gasp relative to this,” Ellis said.

“I was floored,” Vice Chair Chris Boutwell said.

Janice Hamilton-Crawford, president of Trinity Health of New England Senior Communities (the Farren’s parent company), outlined on Nov. 8 the findings of a facility assessment performed over the summer on the Montague City Road building that determined first-year redevelopment costs would amount to roughly $24 million. According to Hamilton-Crawford, the second year would cost $23.8 million, the third year, $260,000, and the fourth year, $130,000.

“With that, as you could imagine, given the significant capital investment required to bring this building up to proper condition ... the recommendation is that we demo the building,” she said at the time.

By comparison, demolition is expected to cost around $6.8 million. Should the company proceed with demolition plans, Trinity Health intends to give the property to the town.

The long-term care facility was closed earlier this 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.

During a public comment period on Monday, residents expressed feelings of general negligence and concern about a lack of communication from Trinity Health.

“It seems to me that we are sort of the forgotten village,” said Lilith Wolinsky, a Town Meeting member, Montague City Improvement Association founder and Montague City resident. “It seems a little bit like we are out of sight, out of mind, and that we have become somewhat a repository for some less-than-desirable businesses. ... The proposed demolition of the Farren comes at the tail end of 50-plus years of civic neglect and a loss of resources, pulling resources out of Montague City without replenishing those.”

Wolinsky voiced skepticism regarding how thorough Trinity Health’s research and analysis had been.

“I do understand that some historic buildings pose more problems than solutions,” Wolinsky said. “However, it is concerning ... that this building has been recommended for demolition without a really thorough and community-informed redevelopment study, as was promised by Trinity Health last December.”

Following Wolinsky’s request for a “serious study for its reuse,” Ellis said he’d reached out to Trinity Health’s real estate department to ask for a copy of their study, but did not receive a response. He said he then spoke with Hamilton-Crawford.

“I followed up on that with Jan Hamilton-Crawford after the public meeting that we held and she said she did not believe their legal team would allow them to release that document,” Ellis said.

Town Planner Walter Ramsey added that he agreed with Wolinsky’s request for a redevelopment study, but said the study might be best in relation to the land itself, rather than the existing building.

“As far as the redevelopment study, yes, I do expect at least a redevelopment study,” Ramsey said. “It just comes down to whether it’s a redevelopment study for the site or for the reuse of that building.”

In support of the argument that redeveloping cleared land might be best, Ramsey referenced a series of town plans and preservation documents dating back nearly half a century. His research found that between the Montague Historical Society’s 1976 “Pictorial History of Montague,” Montague’s 1999 building protection plans, and Montague’s 2017 Open Space and Recreation Plan, there is “no plan that we can point to to say that this is a historic building.”

“That is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to rebuild the village center,” he said.

Selectboard members had mixed feelings as they considered their options.

“I’m not thrilled to see it demolished, I will put it to you that way,” Boutwell said.

Selectboard Chair Rich Kuklewicz said, however, that he is wary of keeping the building due to pitfalls he’s seen the town fall into historically. He said demolishing the building would be a “pretty responsible” decision.

“What I don’t want to leave the community with is a building that we fight to somehow keep control of and then end up with a Rod Shop or a Strathmore or a Railroad Salvage,” Kuklewicz said. “I’ve just seen too many things that we’ve tried to gain control of, or that people have irresponsibly left for this community, like (International Paper Co.) did with Strathmore, and they plague us for generations. ... As unpopular as that may be and as divisive as that may sound, I’m sorry, but the reality of it is that we have a facility there that could lay fallow for years and years.”

Selectboard Clerk Matt Lord remained relatively neutral, endorsing the idea to continue discussion with Trinity Health.

“My perspective is I would like the Farren to share the study that they have,” Lord said. “There have been allegations that they have not performed a comprehensive redevelopment study as they said they would. I don’t know if that’s true.”

“Let’s not drop it,” Kuklewicz said of the topic, “but the other thing we all need to be aware of is that they still are a private entity and they could apply for a demolition permit tomorrow.”

Reach Julian Mendoza at 413-772-0261, ext. 261 or


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