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The Ware Historical Commission discusses the steps it needs to take to save the Mary Lane Hospital site during its Feb. 26 meeting.
Reminder Publishing photo by Sarah Heinonen

WARE — The Ware Historical Commission continued to work on saving the buildings at the former Mary Lane Hospital at its meeting on Feb. 26.

The Historical Commission had worked with the Hospital Review Committee and Town Manager Stuart Beckley to create a list of steps to take in the effort to find an entity that would be interested in reusing the existing buildings on the Mary Lane campus. Those steps included a Feb. 21 joint meeting with the Hospital Review Committee and HRT Architects, who had completed an assessment of the campus’ buildings and their suitability for reuse.

Historical Commission Chair Lyn Lak said she had been working on an inventory of the historical buildings on the site as one of the identified steps toward historical protection. She said she was able to track down the person for whom the Wetherby Building on South Street is named. While it is a step in the right direction, she said she must examine the history of each building on the site to stop their demolition.

The steps also included sending out several letters, including to all “healthcare giants” who may be interested in the hospital and to health care developers. The list also called for a letter to large area businesses, such as Kanzaki Specialty Papers Inc. and Cedarbrook Village at Ware, which abuts the Mary Lane property. Beckley commented that if the town was going to reach out to one company in the area, it should reach out to all local companies in that industry.

Historical Commission member Kadra said she had attended a meeting between officials and Baystate Health President of Regional Hospitals Ronald Bryant. Based on that meeting, she said officials had been “very supportive.” She had asked Westmass Area Development Corporation, Baystate’s developer of choice, for its preliminary plans for the site and had received no response.

Beckley reminded the commissioners that the town had decided to pursue two tracks, regarding the Mary Lane property: historical protection and finding a new use for the building and making the case that without a hospital the area is a hospital desert. He said state Director of Rural Affairs Anne Gobi could be of help with the second track. He intimated that Westmass’ plans for redevelopment were a part of the second track being handled by the Hospital Review Committee.

Moving on to another topic, Kadra said she understood that Bryant had agreed to attend Historical Commission meetings when Mary Lane is on the agenda. Bryant and attorney Peter Barry, who was representing Baystate Health had a different understanding.

“I don’t think we have anything to offer [at the meetings],” said Barry. Bryant added that he had agreed to be fully transparent, but not to attend all the Historical Commission meetings. If a name is put forth by the town, Bryant said Baystate Health would vet the potential buyer and consider any offer made, “but what more can we do besides vet them?”

Historical Commission member Alice Atkinson-Bonasio asked if Baystate Health would share their criteria for vetting, to which Barry responded, “There’s a certain lack of trust [in Baystate Health] from this woman.” Lak told him, “There’s a lack of trust from the town.”

Historical Commission member Wanda Mysona said she could not find evidence that Baystate Health had considered any other developers aside from Westmass, despite Barry’s assertions that the company had done its “due diligence” in seeking an entity to reuse the site without demolition. Atkinson-Bonasio said, “We cannot trust that Baystate was as thorough as the town will be.”

Mysona asked Barry if developers other than Westmass had been approached with the opportunity to purchase the property for $1. Barry told her that Baystate Health is classified as a charitable organization under the law. He said selling the property for a dollar to Westmass, which is also a nonprofit, was a way to subsidize the cost of asbestos abatement needed at the former hospital. He said Baystate Health was not interested in subsidizing a for-profit business.

Referring to possible ways to reuse the site, Lak said HRT Architects had said the building would be best reused as a hospital, but Beckley recalled they had said it should not be used as a hospital. After some back and forth, Beckley clarified that he understood the architects to have said it would be difficult to reuse for anything other than healthcare, but a hospital was not a good option.

Beckley asked if the commission’s plan was to save just the Wetherby Building or all the structures on the site. Barry told the commission that his reading of the bylaw stated that only buildings 75 years of age or older were eligible for the emotion delay bylaw. The lawyer and the commissioners debated whether connections between the buildings made them part of the same structure, and therefore all eligible for protection through the bylaw. Mysona said the intertwined electricity and HVAC systems made them essentially one building.

Resident Stephen Granlund, an outspoken critic of Baystate Health and its plans for the Mary Lane campus, said he had heard different answers to whether Baystate Health had a contract with Westmass. Barry told him there was a contract with the company for decommissioning the hospital, but there was no contract for the redevelopment of the site. Granlund asked to see the contract, to which an exasperated Barry responded, “What do you want it for?” Granlund told him he had questions about how much “destruction” had been done under the guise of “decommissioning.”

Barry repeated that Baystate Health had been transparent with the town. Kadra said that in the interest of transparency, Baystate Health should attend the commission’s meetings and Westmass should provide a copy of its plans for the site, should the moratorium run out before another use is found.

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