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Verbal agreement reached on the sale of Westborough State Hospital property

Posted by Tom Coakley  June 20, 2013 02:01 PM

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Westborough Town Manager Jim Malloy said Thursday that a verbal agreement has been reached with the state on the sale of the shuttered Westborough State Hospital in which the town would buy the hospital property, resell all or part of the land and reimburse the state a portion of the net proceeds.

Malloy said he could not disclose details of the agreement - including the price that has been negotiated - until a written version is produced.

The town manager said he was optimistic that residents would approve of the purchase of the hospital at an October Town Meeting. He recalled a 2011 meeting where “the vast majority said the town should buy this and direct the redevelopment of it.”

According to information posted on the town’s website, the hospital closed in 2010, at which time the state created the Westborough State Hospital Re-Use Commission.

In a 2011 report, the commission cited a study by Sasaki Associates that determined that it could make the most money by selling the land to a developer in order to build 500 housing units.

“Something like that would push us to build a new school,” Malloy said on Thursday. A new school, Malloy estimated, would cost Westborough more than $6 million a year for debt service and operating costs alone.

Additionally, if the property was sold to a developer, the town would lose out on six soccer fields already on the site that Westborough had already built, and leases from the state at a cost of $1 a year.

Replacement soccer fields would run the town $4.4 million for construction costs and land acquisitions, or $300,000 per year.

However, Malloy estimated that Westborough could make $1.2 million in annual property taxes if the site was developed commercially.

“People will see it’s a very positive thing for the town,” said Malloy.

Additional public forums on the purchase of the state hospital will be held in September and October.

In a May interview, Westborough Town Planner, Jim Robbins, saiid the site is 125 acres, with 92 acres of useable land. The rest consists of steep slopes and wetlands.

There are more than 40 structures on the property, including the largest, the administration building. Many buildings are in such bad condition that they’re unusable.

What makes Westborough State Hospital unique, according to Robbins, is the state is proposing to sell it with few conditions.

“No other town was able to secure (purchase) of their hospitals with no strings attached,” said Robbins. “For example, Belmont, Foxborough, Northhampton–all of them have retrofitted existing structures for use. All those projects had issues with existing buildings. The cost to rehabilitate them is so great, and the (removal) of hazardous materials like asbestos is expensive.”

The area is zoned for mixed use, and Robbins said anything could go in there, ranging from offices to retail, residential units, hotels, and recreation.

“There is water there, so it’s very attractive,” Robbins said.

Residential use is allowed, however, the town is not considering that. “We want a positive cash flow,” Robbins said. “At some point, we’ve got to balance the budget.”

According to Malloy, there is the potential for 1 million square feet of taxable commercial development on the site.

Ideally, Robbins said he would like to see mixed commercial use, such as a medical campus, or a mixed restaurant/hotel/retailuse, as well as promoting use of Lake Chauncy.

“This was the first mental health facility in the Commonwealth,” Robbins said. “The administrative building is still in very good condition. We’d try to save that. It’d make a great conference center. Other structures are so compromised that they’re not salvageable. Most buildings would be removed.”

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