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Long-Awaited Asbestos Cleanup to Begin at Former Belchertown State School

November 26, 2014 : Daily Hampshire Gazette, by Eric Goldscheider

BELCHERTOWN — Work on removing contaminants from areas of the former Belchertown State School will begin as soon as next week.

Bay State Contracting of Springfield has been awarded a $40,800 contract to remove asbestos debris from the administration building of the former state school, according to Mark Sternman, a spokesman for MassDevelopment. The state agency is taking the lead on finding developers for the sprawling campus that covers more than 80 acres owned by the Belchertown Economic Development and Industrial Corp.

MassDevelopment has also issued requests for proposals for more extensive environmental cleanup and demolition work to clear the way for the construction of an 83-unit assisted living complex on a four-acre parcel. The Grantham Group, a Boston-based developer, received a green light to move ahead with that project last summer.

The amount of environmental cleanup that can be done on other parts of the former state school campus, beyond where the assisted living facility will be built, will depend on the proposals that are submitted, according to Select Board member Ronald Aponte.

The goal is to demolish several buildings and to remove asbestos from underground tunnels. So far, the state has released $1 million for that work. Aponte said the goal will be to make that money go as far as possible.

According to Town Administrator Gary Brougham, more than a dozen proposals have been received for that cleanup work which he said could start as soon as January.

In related news, residents at a special Town Meeting on Monday will be asked to approve a new mixed-use zoning district for the entire 80-plus acres in order for development to move forward. The meeting will be held at 7 p.m. at Belchertown High School.

It will also act on an article that would reconfigure Berkshire Avenue, a road near the access to the planned assisted living facility. Brougham said the measure would move a property line so as to put an underground tunnel containing environmental hazards outside of land the Grantham Group will use, thereby relieving it of liability.

“MassDevelopment has made some pretty impressive progress” in spurring economic activity at the former state school property, said Brougham, and the town is doing all it can to “build on that momentum.”

The work to begin cleaning up at the administration building is not related to the planned assisted living facility. It is a step toward making the structure more attractive to potential developers, said Aponte.

The 83-unit assisted living facility, to be built in an area known as Pad 1, will include 40 units designated as affordable. The Grantham Group worked with MassDevelopment to build an assisted living complex at Village Hill in Northampton.

The Belchertown project, according to Sternman, will support 65 construction jobs and create 40 permanent positions when it is complete.

“The cleanup of the Belchertown State School site represents a key milestone along the redevelopment path,” said MassDevelopment President and CEO Marty Jones in a written statement. “I look forward to work on this important project proceeding through the winter and spring.”

© Copyright 2014 Daily Hampshire Gazette.