With tie vote, Montague Historical Commission does not delay Farren demolition

  • Trinity Health of New England representatives present at Tuesday’s continued demolition delay bylaw hearing at Montague Town Hall. STAFF PHOTO/JULIAN MENDOZA

  • Around 20 people attended Tuesday’s continued demolition delay bylaw hearing between Zoom and in-person attendance at Montague Town Hall. STAFF PHOTO/JULIAN MENDOZA

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

Staff Writer
Published: 12/7/2022 8:19:42 PM
Modified: 12/7/2022 8:19:21 PM

MONTAGUE — Demolition of the former Farren Care Center on Montague City Road will start without delay after the Historical Commission voted not to invoke the town’s demolition delay bylaw at Tuesday’s hearing.

The Historical Commission was split down the middle upon Chair David Brule’s sudden motion to invoke the bylaw roughly 40 minutes into the hearing, which continued a two-hour session held on Nov. 16. Three commissioners voted “yes,” while three voted “no” after considering new evidence of the building’s deterioration provided by parent company Trinity Health of New England. In the case of a tie, “the ‘nay’ votes carry,” Brule explained.

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.”

When used by the Historical Commission, the bylaw can delay proposed demolitions for up to one year.

A team representing Trinity Health maintained at the hearing, which was held at Town Hall at 6 p.m., 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 advice from legal counsel, Trinity Health has declined to provide the town with access to the full building assessment that resulted in a demolition recommendation in November 2021. 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.

Additional information presented Tuesday included an updated summary describing estimated costs and building condition, as well as photos of the basement that showed crumbling brick, water infiltration and more.

“We have made every effort to make highlights from these assessments, including cost estimates,” said Eric Dana, regional operations director for Trinity Health. “We are confident that demolition is the right course of action, given all we’ve inferred from our on-site expert’s independent studies commissioned by Trinity Health Senior Communities.”

Acknowledging the extent of debate that occurred during November’s session, Brule committed to moving the continued hearing along in a “pretty rapid” fashion. Public comment was limited and sparse, with Historical Commission members doing the majority of the evening’s speaking before the vote.

Members electing to invoke the bylaw were Brule, Christopher Sawyer-Lauçanno and Janel Nockleby. Those who opted against it were Chris Clawson, Suzanne LoManto and Ed Gregory.

Sawyer-Lauçanno said Trinity Health’s newly presented photos did little to convince him that the building’s deterioration was of imminent concern, as Dana had described. He also rejected Dana’s notion that there is “no reasonable likelihood … that any entity would be willing to purchase” and redevelop the facility.

“I guess you haven’t worked very hard to sell this building off,” Sawyer-Lauçanno said.

“It just doesn’t add up, since you made zero effort to market it,” Nockleby said.

Nockleby then argued that Dana “can’t prove” that the building in is as poor of a condition as he claims.

“It’s been proven to me,” Dana responded, ushering in around 10 seconds of silence within the meeting room.

Clawson argued that the building should be demolished “in the spirit of what (architect Bernard) Farren’s wishes would be.” He recalled that Farren’s will dictated that should the building no longer be used as a hospital, it be “razed,” with the cleared plot of land returned to the town.

“I was relieved when I heard that the persons responsible … said, ‘We’re going to do the right thing and we’re going to clear this property for the town,’” Selectboard Chair Rich Kuklewicz said. “For us to risk losing this (opportunity), it’s going to cost us millions.”

Building Inspector William Ketchen said that while Trinity Health’s environmental abatement is underway at the Farren property, “they haven’t really given a time yet” as to when work would be finished. Once hazardous materials abatement is complete, utilities are disconnected and a go-ahead is given by the state, Ketchen may issue a demolition permit and demolition may begin.

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


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