With building condition detailed further, hearing on Farren demolition to continue Dec. 6

  • Representatives from Trinity Health of New England joined residents and town officials for the Farren Care Center’s demolition delay bylaw hearing at the Montague Town Hall annex on Wednesday. STAFF PHOTO/JULIAN MENDOZA

  • Members of the Historical Commission lead the Farren Care Center’s demolition delay bylaw hearing at the Montague Town Hall annex on Wednesday. From left: Janel Nockleby, David Brule and Suzanne LoManto. STAFF PHOTO/JULIAN MENDOZA

  • Representatives from Trinity Health of New England at the Farren Care Center’s demolition delay bylaw hearing at the Montague Town Hall annex on Wednesday. STAFF PHOTO/JULIAN MENDOZA

Staff Writer
Published: 11/17/2022 7:39:00 PM

MONTAGUE — The Historical Commission’s hearing on whether to enact the demolition delay bylaw in the case of the vacant Farren Care Center will continue on Dec. 6, after the Farren’s parent company revealed more details about the building’s condition during Wednesday’s hearing.

A team representing Trinity Health of New England maintained at the hearing, which was held in the Town Hall annex, that the former long-term care facility on Montague City Road is too old for its purposes and would be too expensive to update to modern standards. Some particular areas of concern highlighted included an eroded roof and deteriorated water systems, which hadn’t previously been described to the town in such detail.

Citing legal counsel, Trinity Health has declined to provide the town with access to the full building assessment that resulted in a demolition recommendation last November. The company did, however, previously offer the town a brief overview of highlights that includes improvement costs for exterior window replacement estimated at $500,000, flooring replacement expected to cost $3 million, mechanical upgrades estimated at $4 million, electrical work estimated at $3.9 million, plumbing upgrades expected to cost $1.7 million, roof replacement estimated at $2 million, and eroded mortar joints and water infiltration damage estimated at $1.5 million.

“If we keep the 1900 building, there is only one utility that actually remains there, and that’s the sewer,” added David Galbraith, who said he has run every one of Trinity Health’s construction projects for the past 43 years. “Everything else would have to be brought in.”

Getting into specifics, Galbraith described hard-to-access crawlspaces, outdated generators that are no longer produced and asbestos-coated pipes that “could literally crumble on you” if touched.

“An infection practitioner or nurse would tell us to run away from that building,” added Project Manager Michael Tierney.

Eric Dana, regional operations director for Trinity Health, stressed repeatedly throughout Wednesday’s hearing that the building is “not viable” for these reasons. He said while Trinity Health has engaged some prospective developers about potential reuse of the building, it would be nonsensical to heavily advertise the building.

“We have explored repurposing it … but this is not a building that an investor is going to invest in,” Dana said. “It’s not a building that somebody’s going to sell, and Trinity’s really looking to do the right thing for the community and make the property safe. If we aggressively marketed it, there’s a chance somebody would want to buy and we’d have to work through that, but there’s a chance that they couldn’t do anything with it.”

Historical Commission member Christopher Sawyer-Lauçanno expressed relief that what was presented at the hearing was “the most information we’ve had.” However, he voiced frustrations that Trinity Health would not share the full building assessment.

“It would make it much easier for us to understand what the problems are,” Sawyer-Lauçanno told Trinity Health officials. “Normally, this is the sort of thing that is provided to a Historical Commission to help your cause.”

The demolition delay bylaw serves to “preserve and protect, through advance notice of their proposed demolition, significant buildings,” and to “encourage owners of preferably preserved significant buildings to seek out persons who might be willing to purchase and to preserve, rehabilitate or restore such buildings rather than demolish them.” If enacted by the Historical Commission, the bylaw could delay demolition for up to one year. Some in attendance, such as Economic Development and Industrial Corporation Vice Chair James Mussoni, felt that with a year having already gone by since the demolition recommendation was first given in November 2021, the town might as well allow for a “more aggressive” marketing push.

“It just seems to me that a year might not be a lot to ask for, considering you’ve already waited this long,” he said.

Meanwhile, Leyden resident Jerry Lund invoked recent conversations with Brattleboro-based developer Robert Stevens in which he voiced interest in potentially redeveloping the Farren. In an October email to the Historical Commission, Lund said that during communications between the two, Stevens said he was “quite excited about the possible housing (both market rate and affordable) and the historical restoration potential” of the Farren “if a partner could be found” to assist.

Most who spoke during the public comment period, though, did not support preserving the building.

“I think the responsible thing for the residents of our community is to see that building removed,” Selectboard Chair Rich Kuklewicz said, noting that the Selectboard recommended to Historical Commission members that they not invoke the bylaw.

“There is no good reuse for this building other than to take it down for the land that it sits on,” commented Bob Obear, a local developer who sits on the Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals.

“Just the energy cost alone, the climate impact … it should be prohibited,” said Peter Hudyma, a former maintenance department worker at the Farren. Earlier in the meeting, Dana revealed that Trinity Health has to pay $42,000 every two weeks for oil to heat the building above freezing temperatures.

“It should be a crime to run a building like this in this age of climate problems,” Hudyma continued.

Historical Commission Chair David Brule made a motion to extend the hearing for six weeks (later reduced to two) near the end of Wednesday’s session. He reasoned that this would give Trinity Health ample time to provide Montague officials with a more detailed summary that includes insight into conversations with prospective developers. He also requested photos of the facility’s basement, which was restricted from access by the Historical Commission when members toured the site previously.

“It is to have sufficient time for you to get us a summary,” Brule said of his motion’s rationale. “Personally, as a historian, I would like to see that closure.”

The motion was approved, and Wednesday’s meeting concluded in around two hours. The next meeting will be held at Town Hall on Tuesday, Dec. 6, at 6 p.m.

Reach Julian Mendoza at 413-930-4231 or jmendoza@recorder.com.


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