​State, Town to Work on Defunct School ​

December 11, 2009

Amherst Bulletin, by Stephen C. Hill

BELCHERTOWN – MassDevelopment and the town’s Economic Development and Industrial Corp. will begin working on a memorandum of agreement to have the agency provide assistance in obtaining grants for the demolition of buildings and cleaning of hazardous materials at the former Belchertown State School.

Sample contracts with Springfield and Chicopee will be forwarded to the EDIC, said Richard Henderson, executive vice president for real estate for MassDevelopment, the commercial development arm of the state that helped redevelop the former Northampton State Hospital, Friday at a meeting with town officials, state legislators and MassDevelopment officers.

Grants for the state school cleanup could be a more readily available source of funding than the $10 million earmarked by the state Legislature for the task. That money would come from a state environmental bond for which $1.4 billion was available and $4.5 billion sought this fiscal year, and with the state’s fiscal situation bleak, other financing sources should be explored, said Anne Marie Dowd, vice president for legislative affairs for MassDevelopment.

“The environmental bond is a safety net,” said state Rep. Thomas M. Petrolati, D-Ludlow. MassDevelopment is second to none in finding funding vehicles for redeveloping sites, especially those that show promise of job creation, Petrolati said.

“MassDevelopment, to me, is the premier developer in Massachusetts, and I think they’re giving the town the right advice in funds to pursue,” he said.

Dowd said there is a slew of grants available, including the Public Works Economic Development grant for up to $2 million and the Community Development Action grant for up to $1 million, Dowd said. Demolition is the hardest part of a redevelopment project for which to obtain grants, she said.

In the meantime, the EDIC will begin working on a purchase and sales agreement with an assisted-living company interested in constructing about 90 units at the state school, including 30 assisted-living units and 30 beds for dementia patients, said the panel’s chairman, William Terry. But the developer needs 7 acres and the adjacent land clear of abandoned buildings, he said.

The sales agreement would be contingent on the site being cleared. Terry would not disclose the name of the company.

Henderson said having a purchase and sales agreement with a business shows the site has more than the potential to attract businesses. “It helps open that door,” he said.

Edmund Starzec, director of land entitlements for MassDevelopment, said the latest estimate for demolition and remediation is $4.8 million, less than half of some prior estimates. “Demolition costs have come down,” he said.

© Copyright 2009 Amherst Bulletin.