The Recorder – Farren’s Public Forum Revisits Timeline and Building Condition

MONTAGUE — City officials held their Farren Care Center public outreach meeting on Monday, ending with a plan to ask Trinity Health to affirm its donation of the land and possibly fund a redevelopment study, if the buildings were demolished.

The forum was organized by the Selectboard, the Historical Commission, City Administrator Steve Ellis and town planner Walter Ramsey, with the aim of discussing Trinity Health’s recommendation to demolish the building on Montague City Road.

The panel opened with Ellis providing a timeline of communication between the city and Trinity Health of New England, the Farrens’ parent company. Ramsey then presented visuals of the layout of the property and the interior of the building. Finally, Ramsey and Selectboard Chairman Rich Kuklewicz hosted a public discussion where residents were given two-minute windows to ask questions or make comments.

The long-term care facility was closed early last year, having essentially merged with a similar facility in Holyoke called Mount Saint Vincent Care Center. All of Farren’s 105 residents would have been offered space at the Holyoke facility. Trinity Health argued that the building on Montague City Road was too old for its needs and it would be too expensive to update it to modern standards.

The timeline presented by Ellis began in February 2018, when a government bond bill included $30 million for Farren’s improvements. Ellis then acknowledged the November 2019 meeting where the Farren’s sustainability was questioned before recalling the facility’s closure, steps in the building assessment process, developments regarding the demolition recommendation of Trinity Health and more. The detailed mapping of the timeline of talks between the two parties was timely, given the collective public feeling of not having enough information regarding Trinity Health’s communication.

For some residents, however, that wasn’t timely enough. Resident Ariel Elan said that “this kind of information eliminates that disconnect”, knowing the extent of the communication as it happened would have been beneficial.

Ramsey’s summary of the property’s three 9-acre parcels included an overview of its central business district zoning context, the age of the property’s building sections, and interior plans of the original 1900 building and of the 1965 addition.

Peter Hudyma, who introduced himself as a former employee of the Farren’s maintenance department, offered his thoughts to complement Ramsey’s presentation, saying the facility was ‘decrepit’ even when he worked there 25 years ago .

“It was no small effort (to maintain it). … Even then, it was in really bad shape,” he said. “A truly second-class place to work.”

Hudyma then expressed her belief that Trinity Health officials had not exaggerated in their assessment of the condition.

Instead of releasing the state of the city assessment as requested, Trinity Health provided a brief overview of highlights, including the scope of work and key findings. The list includes costs to improve severely eroded mortar joints and water ingress damage estimated at $1.5 million, exterior window replacement estimated at $500,000, roof replacement estimated at $2 million, flooring replacement is expected to cost $3 million, mechanical upgrades estimated at $4 million, electrical work estimated at $3.9 million, and plumbing upgrades are expected to cost $1.7 million.

Hudyma said he would rather see the land turned into a park than have the city preserve it as an energy-inefficient facility it has no “rational need for.”

“I don’t see it as something the city wants to take on,” he said.

During the public discussion part of the meeting, residents largely voiced opinions and concerns that had already been voiced at previous Selectboard meetings, with the bulk of the contributions coming in favor of building reuse.

“There are a lot of other considerations,” said Leiden resident Jerry Lund, “but we have a housing crisis that is more than catastrophic.”

“We have so many needs in Montague City,” said Lilith Wolinsky, Town Meeting member, founder of the Montague City Improvement Association and Montague City resident. “We don’t have a place to buy a piece of butter, a newspaper.”

Christopher Sawyer-Lauçanno, an author who taught architecture and writing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for 25 years, said he and historian Janel Nockleby had “just about finished” the paperwork to document the Farren in as a historic building, in hopes of potentially giving the city another avenue to preserve it. Both expressed a desire for Montague officials to pursue an independent building assessment or reuse study.

Although they were unable to reach a decision that would directly influence the fate of the building after Monday’s discussion, the Selectboard asked Ellis to facilitate the discussion with Trinity Health to ensure the city is properly equipped to redevelop the land in the event of demolition of the structures.

“I think the request I would like to see from Trinity … is to ask them for funds to do a redevelopment study of this site,” Kuklewicz added.

“I remain in the position that I’m not sure what this board can do at this time,” selection board clerk Matt Lord said. “I think a lot of it depends on the private owners.”

Reach Julian Mendoza at 413-772-0261, ext. 261 or [email protected]

Jennifer C. Burleigh