Montague town officials to Trinity Health: ‘Appreciate our very reasonable upset at your failure’

  • The vacant Farren Care Center in Montague. STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • The vacant Farren Care Center in Montague. STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 2/16/2022 8:55:20 AM
Modified: 2/16/2022 8:53:25 AM

MONTAGUE — The Selectboard approved a message, composed by Town Administrator Steve Ellis, to Trinity Health of New England on Monday, requesting “certain information” and “specific assurances” regarding the Farren Care Center parent company’s potential demolition of the facility.

At last week’s public forum, the Selectboard agreed to enlist Ellis to contact Trinity Health in an effort to ensure the company will follow through on its plan to gift the town the cleared land and fund a redevelopment study post-demolition.

The letter written by Ellis also included additional requests, such as affirmation of the project timeline and clarification of what exactly is being demolished. Ellis also plans to include the perspective of historic preservation organization Preservation Massachusetts, which sent a letter of endorsement to the Selectboard and Historic Commission, in his message to Trinity Health.

The Farren was closed in April of last year, having essentially merged with a similar facility in Holyoke called Mount St. 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.

After its condition assessment yielded a recommendation to demolish the facility, the company declined to release the entirety of the study to the town, a decision Montague officials say breached their initial agreement. Residents and officials alike have been calling on Trinity Health for transparency since then.

“The Selectboard appreciates that (Trinity Health of New England) is a private entity, but expects that you will also appreciate our very reasonable upset at your failure to share the assessments that led to your decision to demolish, as well as your failure to fund and implement a comprehensive redevelopment study in collaboration with the Town,” Ellis wrote in his letter. “We continue to request that your assessment reports be provided to the public.”

The letter contained four requests for clarification from Trinity Health.

First, the Selectboard is looking to confirm that Trinity Health “intends to demolish the entirety of the existing hospital and its related structures (both above and below ground), as well as parking areas at 330-340 Montague City Road,” with intentions to restore the grounds to a level lawn.

Second, the board looks to affirm that the project remains scheduled to begin this spring and conclude this June.

Third, the board wants to make sure Trinity Health does not plan to demolish office space that had formerly been residential space at 356 Montague City Road. Lastly, the board requested assurance that “the parking lot and related improvements across the street from the hospital campus” would be left intact.

Ellis subsequently delineated additional “requested assurances” in the letter. First, the Selectboard seeks assurance that demolition would include “all above and below ground structures … and will be followed by a Phase II environmental study to ensure no environmental issues exist.” Second, the board requested that the organization “convey the above-described properties with clear title to the Town of Montague” following completion of the process, as initially offered by Trinity Health. Third, the board asked Trinity Health to “make good on its promise to the Town to support redevelopment by provision of a gift of $100,000.”

Lastly, the board requested the Historical Commission and staff be allowed “to identify any unique artifacts that may be set aside” for both preservation and an eventual memorial to construction company owner and namesake Bernard Farren, along with the residents who were affiliated with the hospital.

The Selectboard approved the letter with no objections or proposed changes.

“I looked it over and I thought it looked pretty straightforward,” Vice Chair Chris Boutwell said.

“I think it reflects what we talked about at the last meeting pretty well,” Clerk Matt Lord said.

The contribution Preservation Massachusetts made came amid local historian Janel Nockleby and newly appointed Historical Commission member Christopher Sawyer-Lauçanno’s efforts to have the Farren recognized as a historic building in both state and federal registries, which achieved success with its recent acceptance. The Preservation Massachusetts letter, written by Executive Director Erin D. A. Kelley, offers support to the Selectboard and Historical Commission in their pursuit of a more complete building assessment, citing the facility’s historical significance.

“Preservation Massachusetts supports the efforts of your board and concerned citizens to engage Trinity Health Care in a positive public dialogue that can provide a more complete picture of the issues surrounding Farren Memorial Hospital and their decision making that impacts a significant historic asset for the Montague community,” Kelley wrote to the Selectboard.

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


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