By Keith Regan, Contributing Writer
Westborough – The town wants would-be trespassers on the state hospital property to know they are not only risking arrest but personal harm if they break into the byzantine network of buildings and tunnels.
Town Manager Jim Malloy told the Board of Selectmen at the board’s March 23 meeting that in recent weeks there has been a surge of unauthorized activity on the property.
“It’s pretty much a daily occurrence now over the past three weeks,” he said.
Some trespassers are what Malloy termed “urban guerilla photographers,” exploring the property and posting their images to Web sites and social networks alongside those from other abandoned mental institutions and other forgotten structures.
Others go in intending to steal copper wiring and other materials that can be resold as scrap.
Regardless of the motivation, “it’s not safe,” Malloy said.
Selectmen Chair George Barrette said in addition to being exposed to aging asbestos insulation and lead paint debris, uninvited visitors walking through the buildings may be in for some unpleasant surprises.
“You might end up going right through the floor,” he said.
Malloy said Department of Public Works crews spent 30 hours on the property in recent weeks, repairing fences that had been cut and working with a locksmith to secure buildings themselves. Police have also stepped up their surveillance of the property and the town has reached out to the state’s property management division to explore continuing private security services on the site.
Police Chief Alan Gordon said those who break into the buildings could face not only misdemeanor trespassing charges but also could be charged with breaking and entering, which is a felony.
In response to a question from Selectman Lydia Goldblatt about tracking perpetrators through their online postings, Gordon said he reached out to one of the sites where photos of the property were being posted to make it clear the property is now owned by the town and off-limits for public safety reasons.
“We will catch somebody eventually and if we have to make example of them and charge them with felony breaking and entering that’s what we’ll do,” he said.
Barrette said some explorers may be under the false impression that the buildings face imminent demolition. Although the town has formed a committee to study reuse of the property, which it has formally taken ownership of from the state only in recent weeks, that group is still in the early stages of its work.
“There are no plans at this point,” Barrette said, “so there’s no urgency to get inside and see these buildings right now.”