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WARE — The Historical Commission enacted the town’s Demolition Delay Bylaw for Mary Lane Hospital and the Lewis Gilbert House during its Jan. 17 meeting, the commission announced. With this enactment, the two properties cannot be demolished for nine months or until the commission grants permission to Ware Building Commissioner Anna Marques.

In accordance with the bylaw, the Historical Commission is tasked with assisting the owner of the properties with locating a developer to “preserve, rehabilitate or restore” the buildings during the nine-month delay. This process began at the commission’s Jan. 22 meeting.

Following discussions with Town Manager Stuart Beckley and Baystate Health Attorney Ryan Barry, the commission agreed on multiple steps to complete moving forward in order to best try to save Mary Lane Hospital and the Lewis Gilbert House during the delay.

Acquire more information

One necessary step that the Historical Commission decided was seeking more information that would allow the town to better understand and judge the likelihood of reusing the two properties on 85 and 89 South Street.

Historical Commission Chair Lynn Lak highlighted during the Jan. 22 meeting that many Ware residents struggle to trust Baystate Health on the account that they feel “promises were broken” concerning what would happen with the properties after the closure of Mary Lane was announced in 2021.

To remedy this gap, the commission requested that Baystate Health provide the town with a cost evaluation for redeveloping the properties. Additionally, as suggested by Finance Committee Chair Ken Willette, the commission agreed to seek a cost evaluation from HKT Architects as well, which previously evaluated the condition of Mary Lane for the town.

In response, Barry clarified that the cost of redevelopment would vary based on how the buildings were utilized but agreed that the trust gap between Ware and Baystate Health should be healed. He stated that the company would work with the town to prove Baystate Health conducted “good faith efforts” to locate a potential developer and that future efforts to locate a developer during the nine-month delay would likely be unsuccessful.

Since a formal contract has not yet been written between Baystate Health and Westmass Development Corp., Barry also warned the commission that Westmass may not remain interested in the property after waiting the full nine-month delay. Baystate Health selected Westmass to assist in the decommissioning of the medical facility and redevelopment of the property in March 2023.

Seek outside assistance

At the meeting, the Historical Commission also discussed contacting outside organizations for assistance in saving the two properties.

One suggestion, discussed by the Planning Board during its Jan. 18 meeting, was to use the properties as senior housing. This was raised by Vice Chair Richard Starodoj as a way to address the town’s housing need without the costly construction of a new complex.

For this inquiry, Beckley recommended at the Jan. 22 meeting that the Historical Commission contact Way Finders, an organization that works to provide housing in Western Massachusetts.

Similarly, the commission also decided to reach out to other medical providers about reusing the properties for medical services. This came after Baystate Health representatives stated that the company had not reached out to medical providers in the region as possible developers.

Historical Commission member Claudia Kadra highlighted that the loss of Mary Lane’s medical services was concerning for many residents across the region because it increased the travel time to reach services. In contacting medical providers, the commission could address this issue while saving the properties, she argued.

Another suggestion was to contact Massachusetts Director of Rural Affairs Anne Gobi and the Massachusetts Historical Commission. While Mary Lane Hospital and the Lewis Gilbert House are historically significant to the town of Ware, Barry emphasized the buildings’ relatively modern constructions and failure to be on the National Register of Historic Places meant that grant funds to save the buildings were unlikely.

As a result, the Ware commission agreed to reach out to Gobi and the state commission to ask if they can assist with preserving the buildings. They will also contact Marques about security of the buildings during the delay, Lak said.

Memorialize the history

Ultimately, if a developer is not located prior to the end of the delay, the buildings will be demolished and the property sold to Westmass, Lak stated. If this occurs, the Ware Historical Commission requested that the new buildings contain a memorial to Mary Lane Hospital and the Lewis Gilbert House, whether through reusing certain materials, a plaque or another method.

Resident Stephen Granlund voiced a similar request, asking Baystate Health representatives to allow a banner in front of 85 South Street that reads, “Mary Lane Hospital, For all who were born here. For all who received care here. For all who worked here. In memory of all who died here.” Granlund argued that this banner was necessary after memorial plaques paid for by residents were destroyed during Baystate’s asbestos removal.

Barry stated that this decision was ultimately up to Westmass, as Baystate will not be involved in the construction process, but that a memorial was a “very very workable request.”

All parties agreed to begin addressing these concerns and reconvene at the commission’s next meeting on Feb. 26.

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