Trinity Health recommends demolishing 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: 11/9/2021 7:20:51 PM

MONTAGUE — After a facility assessment determined that redevelopment costs would dwarf the cost of demolition, Trinity Health of New England’s real estate department is recommending the former Farren Care Center building be demolished.

Speaking before the Selectboard on Monday, Janice Hamilton-Crawford, president of Trinity Health of New England Senior Communities (the Farren’s parent company), outlined the findings of the facility assessment performed on the Montague City Road building over the summer that determined first-year redevelopment costs would amount to roughly $24 million.

After collective groans from those in attendance upon hearing the first-year cost estimate, Hamilton-Crawford revealed that 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.

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.

Town Administrator Steve Ellis said that on top of conversations with Trinity Health, the town also spoke with MassDevelopment.

“The word that (Town Planner Walter Ramsey) and I received in those conversations was that this was not a particularly good redevelopment building,” Ellis said. “Certainly not one to take a risk on.”

He then referenced a pattern that has emerged in Montague over the years.

“It would not be a great cost proposition for the town to take on another failing turn-of-the-previous-century building,” Ellis said of the 125,000-square-foot, five-floor structure.

Members of the public who attended Monday’s meeting via Zoom voiced concerns over the prospect of demolishing the facility. Jerry Lund, a member of the Opioid Task Force of Franklin County and the North Quabbin Region, said that in addition to the building’s historical significance, the town should capitalize on the building’s availability to potentially house homeless people.

“We have, in our county and in our state, a huge housing crisis,” he said. “Why couldn’t the Farren minimally, for a short period of time — let’s call it winter — be a location where folks who are homeless could be housed to stay safe, warm and well until the season turns?”

Others voiced concern regarding the potential hastiness of making a decision in either direction.

“This is one of the most unacceptable things I have seen since I moved to this town 20 years ago,” commented Jeff Singleton, who writes for the weekly Montague Reporter. “The Historical Commission has not been informed, different options have clearly not been looked at. ... There’s a little more detail here that needs to be discussed.”

Historical Commission President David Brule confirmed that the topic “slipped through the cracks” of the commission’s last meeting on Oct. 28. Brule added that while commissioners “haven’t had sufficient information needed to make a decision,” he is concerned that the oldest portion of the Farren Care Center could be demolished without proper respect for its historical significance.

“From my perspective, we would like to put our eyes back on this,” Brule said Tuesday, adding that the project is now a high priority for the Historical Commission’s attention. The commission’s next meeting is not yet scheduled.

The Selectboard did not make any decisions regarding the facility’s future at Monday’s Selectboard meeting. Toward the discussion’s conclusion, Town Planner Walter Ramsey volunteered the services of his department to help however necessary.

“It’s a really important site to the community,” he said, “and the process is really important.”


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