With virtual forum, Montague Selectboard seeks community input on Farren’s future

  • The vacant Farren Care Center on Montague City Road in Montague. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • The vacant Farren Care Center on Montague City Road in Montague. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 1/26/2022 4:39:53 PM
Modified: 1/26/2022 4:38:34 PM

MONTAGUE — Members of the public expressed concern and confusion regarding the purpose of a Farren Care Center virtual public forum slated for Feb. 7 during this week’s Selectboard meeting.

Town officials had agreed at a Jan. 10 Selectboard meeting to hold a forum in an effort to gain community perspective prior to reaching out to Trinity Health of New England, the Farren’s parent company, again, following the company’s recommendation to demolish the Montague City Road building. The forum was proposed amid an outpouring of negative responses to the prospect of demolition, as well as skepticism regarding the due diligence and confidentiality of Trinity Health’s building assessment.

“Mostly, this is an opportunity to have a discussion with some of the residents with ideas, but have it be a two-way discussion where they can present some ideas with the town and town officials can also present some of the practical realities surrounding redevelopment of the site,” Town Planner Walter Ramsey explained.

“Some of the more practical conversations might be about if that site is clear, what would the people of Montague City and Montague broadly really view as the best … (and) the core values we really want to see emerge,” Town Administrator Steve Ellis said.

Ellis said the Feb. 7 forum will likely start at 5:30 p.m., allowing for an hour of discussion before the Selectboard’s 6:30 p.m. weekly meeting. However, the time has not been finalized yet.

Officials maintained that the forum is not intended to foster animosity toward Trinity Health or tension among Montague residents.

“We’re not looking to have an antagonistic relationship with Trinity regarding the outcome of this property,” Selectboard Clerk Matt Lord said. “There’s a number of community members who have shown significant displeasure in what Trinity has proposed.”

“We just want to handle the conversation in a respectful way that allows for really open thinking,” Ellis said, “but that doesn’t lead to frustration because we don’t know exactly where we’re bringing the conversation to.”

The long-term care facility was closed early last year, having 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.

Some residents present at Monday’s Selectboard meeting criticized the plan for a public forum for being unclear in purpose, and even unnecessary altogether. Lilith Wolinsky, a Town Meeting member, Montague City Improvement Association founder and Montague City resident, said her frustration stems from the prospect of engaging in such a forum while the public still lacks access to Trinity Health’s condition assessment findings and data.

While Trinity Health declined Montague’s request to view the full building assessment, Eric Dana, regional operations director for Trinity Health, offered the town a brief overview of highlights that includes improvement costs for severely eroded mortar joints and water infiltration damage estimated at $1.5 million, exterior window replacement estimated at $500,000, roof replacement estimated at $2 million, flooring replacement expected to cost $3 million, mechanical upgrades estimated at $4 million, electrical work estimated at $3.9 million and plumbing upgrades expected to cost $1.7 million.

“I was extremely surprised at the recent meeting where you suggested, Matt, that we have what sounds like what may be a speculation session,” Wolinsky directed at Lord, who initially suggested holding the public forum. “I guess I’m not really clear on the benefit of that.”

“I’ve never heard such strong and well-articulated questions about a change of path not addressed directly, and that’s a very grave concern of mine in terms of our process as a community,” resident Ariel Elan commented.

Selectboard Chair Rich Kuklewicz called for the public to refrain from objections throughout the discussion, despite repeated insistence. The discussion concluded amid high tension, with Community Health Center of Franklin County board member Jerry Lund, who is not a Montague resident, seen on Zoom throwing his arms into the air and shaking his head after being left on mute as the Selectboard moved forward with the meeting agenda.

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


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