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Fitchburg receives $87,000 in state funding for decontamination at two sites

January 24, 2020 : Sentinel & Enterprise, by Daniel Monahan

FITCHBURG — Two important parcels of land in the city will be assessed for environmental contamination and cleaned up thanks to the city’s $87,000 share of $2.6 million in Brownfields Redevelopment Fund awards distributed this week.

Gov. Charlie Baker announced the fund awards on Thursday. The city will be receiving $87,000 to remove old transformers from the former B.F. Brown School and to remediate a vacant 1.3-acre lot at 80 Lunenburg St.

“It’s another example of how much the state recognizes the important things that are going on here in Fitchburg,” said Mayor Stephen DiNatale. “They have recognized the important projects and initiatives that are going on in Fitchburg and they’re trying to provide as many resources as possible. We couldn’t be happier.”

MassDevelopment oversees the Brownfields Redevelopment Fund, which helps to transform vacant, abandoned, or underused industrial or commercial properties by financing both environmental assessment and remediation of brownfield sites in “Economically Distressed Areas” of the state.

Since the Fund’s inception in 1998, it has supported 743 awards for a total investment of more than $107 million.

Fitchburg’s first award, totaling $67,000, will be used to address the issues at lot on Lunenburg Street.

Executive Director of Community Development Tom Skwierawski said the former Peter’s Battery station had been empty for years before construction crews tore down the building in 2006.

According to the Skwierawski, the now city-owned property has several issues which need to be addressed before it can be sold for a mixed-use use commercial development.

“A lot of car repair work had taken place there, and as a result has some contamination,” he said. “There are potentially some underground storage tanks.”

Skwierawski said the city has been attempting to market and sell the property for a number of years, but the environmental issues have held it back.

“This is going to position (the lot) much better for us for redevelopment,” said DiNatale. “It’s setting the stage to make that property much more sought after than it would be if that prospective owner took it on themselves.”

Skwierawski said the lot could be an ideal spot for development in the future with its proximity to the train station, Fitchburg State University, and several food establishments.

The city was also awarded $20,000 to address the issues at the former B.F. Brown School at 62 Academy St.

The site is owned by the NewVue Affordable Housing Corporation, which plans to use the funds in advance of its planned development of the Fitchburg Arts Community.

“There’s a small amount remediation that we need to do,” said NewVue Communities Executive Director Marc Dohan. “There’s some old transformers and we need to move those out.”

The space will eventually be a complex of affordable housing and studio spaces for local artists. The remediation project will focus on three former municipal buildings: the Fitchburg Academy, City Stable, and B.F. Brown Middle School.

This is a 62-unit project with a mix of one, two, and three-bedroom apartments, and about 70 percent of those will be designated affordable, said Dohan.

The Brownfields Redevelopment Fund awards, totaling $2.6 million, will support 16 contaminated and challenging sites across the commonwealth.

Once complete, the 16 projects are projected to redevelop 44.3 acres, create or preserve 682 housing units, and provide 1,625 full-time, part-time, and construction jobs.

“The Brownfields Redevelopment Fund breathes life into vacant or underused properties where redevelopment may be complicated by environmental contamination,” said Gov. Baker. “Today’s awards will provide communities with the resources they need to transform some of the state’s most challenging sites, clearing the way for much-needed new housing units and opening the door for new jobs across the commonwealth.”

“Along with other state resources like MassWorks and the Site Readiness Program, the Brownfields Redevelopment Fund helps municipalities unlock key sites and set the stage for economic development to occur,” added Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito. “We are proud to help cities, towns and other local economic development partners overcome barriers to growth, and to bring projects to completion.”