Plan to purchase Westborough State Hospital is discussed

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By Chris Kopacko, Contributing Writer

Westborough large web iconWestborough – The town of Westborough held the first of three public meetings June 17 regarding the possible acquisition of the Westborough State Hospital property from the commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Presenting the latest on the town's plan of property procurement was Town Manager Jim Malloy, who said that since the town was still in the negotiating process with the state, he couldn's divulge specifics in terms of costs just yet. Malloy said the town has reached a price agreement with the state on the former hospital grounds, which is a 95-acre plot of land near Lake Chauncy.

“I can talk about the general framework, and why we should be considering this, but I can's talk about the dollars and cents right now,” Malloy said.

Part of that general framework was how Westborough would presumably need to build a new school if the property remained in possession of the commonwealth. During a 2011 public hearing, Westborough officials heard a presentation from the Mass. Division of Capital Asset Management and the Mass. on their findings as to what would be the best way to use the state hospital grounds. The commission found that a residential development of over 500 single and multi-family homes would generate the highest amount of revenue.

Malloy explained how this potential increase in residences made the possibility of Westborough needing a new school “very likely.” Six soccer fields currently located on the property would also need to be replaced, he said.

Malloy gave an estimate on how much it would cost the town to allow the property to remain in the hands of the state.

“Between the potential additional school costs and having the replace the soccer fields, we would be looking at just under $6.5 million per year,” he said.

Malloy said if the town was to purchase the land and use one million square feet for commercial office building development, the town could generate $1.3 million per year in property tax revenue.

“So you'se got $6.5 million in potential additional costs here, and you'se got $1.3 million in additional revenues on the other side,” he said.

Malloy stressed that Westborough's negotiated purchase of the land from the commonwealth is unrestricted, meaning the town has more freedom with the future development process.

“Typically when the state sells land to local governments, it's restricted, for municipal purposes only,” he said. “In this case, the state's selling it to us unrestricted, so that we can re-develop it as we see fit.”

Malloy also said that the process of purchasing the land from the state has taken over two years due to all of the channels within the state the town had to go through before the matter reached Gov. Deval Patrick's office.

Malloy concluded his presentation by saying he would be recommending the land purchase at the October Town Meeting.

“Purchasing the state hospital property should, in the long run and the short run, save the taxpayers money,” he said.

One resident questioned the condition of the property, citing Medfield's recent acquisition of its state-owned hospital and the issues they have had with contamination.

Malloy responded by saying that a 21E environmental site assessment conducted by the commonwealth reported that the property was indeed clean. He also noted that as part of the negotiations with the state, the town may request an additional 21E site assessment take place upon purchase.

Another resident said that purchasing almost 100 acres of land on Lake Chauncy and developing it as they saw fit was “the correct thing to do” for the town to do.

There will be two additional meetings, on in August and one in September, regarding the possible acquisition.

The hospital itself was shut down abruptly by the state in 2010; since that time, local and state officials have been pondering what to do with the property. Most of the property lies in Westborough, with a small portion in neighboring Northborough.