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WARE — Historical Commission member Claudia Kadra told a joint meeting of the commission and the Hospital Review Committee on April 11 that 33 “large acute care providers” had been contacted in an effort to find a new operator for the Mary Lane Hospital campus. None had expressed interest.

The Historical Commission and the Hospital Review Committee have been working together to find a way to save the campus from a planned demolition by Baystate Health and sale for $1 to Westmass Area Development Corporation, a not-for-profit economic and real estate development firm. The Historical Commission implemented the town’s Demolition Delay Bylaw in late January, triggering a nine-month moratorium of demolition of the hospital or the Lewis Gilbert house on the campus.

Hospital Review Committee Chair Howard Treach asked if the Historical Commission had contacted any urgent care providers. Kadra said that was the “next step.” She added that the commission had a meeting scheduled with Way Finders, a nonprofit with a mission that includes building and managing affordable housing. However, she explained that the commissioners were waiting for an opinion from legal counsel regarding the scope of uses allowed on the site. In the meantime, another attorney with experience in trust law had been retained.

Trust

The hospital was the product of a trust set up by Lewis Gilbert. The administration of the trust and its balance is the focus of petitions filed with the Hampden Probate and Family Court. Resident Cynthia Allen Bourcier has spearheaded efforts to investigate the handling of the Lewis Gilbert trust and others benefiting Mary Lane Hospital after its merger with Baystate Wing Hospital in 2016. The initial focus of the court order she is pursuing is to halt spending from the trusts until more information can be obtained. The eventual goal would be to have the trusts come under the control of the town or an independent party.

“We have to be careful what we wish for. We may end up with a trust and nothing to use it on,” Treach said, referring to the possibility that the campus will not be saved from demolition and sale. He predicted that Baystate Health would “keep stonewalling and just run the clock out.”

Newly elected Selectboard member Terry Smith commented that the town needed to decide how much money it would be willing to spend to fight Baystate on the future of the Mary Lane campus. He noted that starting with “a clean slate” is sometimes preferable and mentioned other properties in town that may be possible to redevelop into a medical services facility. “There has to be give and take,” he said.

Smith mentioned the possibility of saving only the Wetherby Building and acquiring that section of the property separate from the rest of the campus. Allen Bourcier commented that if the town kept the Wetherby Building, there would be a “Mary Lane Hospital” to attach to the trust’s funds.

Kadra noted that Westmass has not shared any potential plans for the site with the Historical Commission, prompting a resident to ask why Baystate would not sell the hospital to the town for the same $1 price it was offering Westmass. Treach explained that the town is not a real estate developer, and the property may sit vacant on the tax rolls for years. Both Smith and Treach commented that unknown issues with the property may open the town to liabilities it did not foresee. Hospital Review Committee member Denis Ouimette pointed to the South Street School, which sat vacant for 10 years, as an example of what can happen with real estate.

Ouimette stressed that the town has some say in what is built on the Mary Lane site through zoning bylaws and districts. The property is currently zoned Suburban Residential. Town Manager Stuart Beckley said examining the town’s zoning bylaws would be a good way to “get ahead of the curve.”

Asbestos abatement

Building Commissioner Anna S. Marques walked the complex with a state inspector and prepared a report that showed the conditions of the buildings as they were in March 2024. She had been able to access parts of the buildings that had already undergone asbestos abatement. The exterior abatement was about half complete, she said.

The state’s asbestos regulations include the following definition of demolition: “the wrecking or taking out of any load-supporting structural member of a facility together with any related handling operations or the intentional burning of any facility.” Photos of abated areas included in Marques’ report showed that walls and ceilings had been removed, leaving structural beams and supports in place.

Treach emphasized that the report does not show demolition and that asbestos remediation, which is not covered under the Demolition Delay Bylaw and may continue throughout the remaining seven months of the moratorium. He said that work would be needed no matter the future use of the buildings. Treach also said the state is overseeing the work.

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