HANSON — Selectmen on Tuesday night approved a request by the Final Plymouth County Hospital Reuse Committee to apply for a site visit by the nonprofit Urban Land Institute (ULI) as a way of nailing down a viable plan for the site of the crumbling ruin.
The investigation carries a $5,000 price tag, but committee member Marianne DiMascio said ULI helps applicants find grants to cover the cost and, if no grant is available, the town may withdraw its application without obligation.
The five-member committee has been meeting for five months and also includes Selectman Don Howard, Planning Board member Don Ellis, Conservation Commission member Phil Clemons and Robin Sparda-Curran.
“I think the committee is going in a great direction,” Ellis said. “I think we’ve got time to research other avenues, look at different things, we all seem to be coordinating together and going in a positive direction.”
Selectman Bill Scott cautioned that, as DiMascio said during her update on the committee’s work, nearly a half-dozen studies have already been conducted on the site over the past 16 years. The town bought the property in 1999. Demolition costs have been estimate of $1.5 million, but could go a bit higher.
“I’m just wondering if we’re not repeating ourselves,” Scott said of the ULI study. “It ends up being a history lesson every time.”
He noted the town just had the Old Colony Planning Council prove a comprehensive report on use of the site.
“The committee’s going to have to come up with some decisions and I don’t know if we need another outside source to tell us what we already know,” he said.
Clemons replied that ULI will be able to help with some of the more difficult questions remaining.
“What we would have would be a customized team more specifically put together for this project,” Clemons said. “There could be new information for zero or very close to zero dollars.
Requests for proposal may be written to find a developer interested in incorporating demolition costs into a given project, or to demolish the hospital in exchange for the eight acres of land. A combination of Community Preservation funds, grants and/or taxes is possible financing avenues, although officials are not enthusiastic about depending on taxes.
Selectmen, by consensus, endorsed the RFP avenue concurrently with the committee’s consultation with ULI.
Ellis said the committee may invite those submitting RFPs to come in and discuss their plans with the town administrator, within the zoning restrictions on the property. Scott agreed, noting it could result in plan mitigations that could benefit the town.
The focus of Tuesday’s discussion involved the parcel containing the former tuberculosis hospital. The two other parcels are a long strip of land and meadows and the land encompassing the food pantry and water tower, including a U-shaped section around the hospital site.
The meadow, according to almost every previous study, would be best used as open space for recreation and the committee has focused on the parcel containing the decaying, fire-damaged hospital building and eight acres of surrounding grounds.
“It’s just a dangerous building that needs to come down from everything we’ve read and heard about,” DiMascio said.
The committee had discussed the issue with lawyer and Hanson Housing Authority Chairman Teresa Santalucia regarding housing development possibilities on the site and with state Rep. Josh Cutler, D-Duxbury, on grant availability, as well as Laura FitzGerald-Kemmett on potential use of Community Preservation funds.
FitzGerald-Kemmett said there is $750,000 available and CPC funds can be bonded against future Community Preservation Act revenue.
“Obviously we don’t want to be using all the CPC money because then we wouldn’t be able to acquire any open space, restore any [properties],” she said. “But, as a committee, we’ve talked about it exhaustively and — to a person — we’re quite in favor of trying to use this money to try and do something positive up at Plymouth County Hospital.”
Selectmen Chairman James McGahan said he does not advocate using all the CPA funds either, and said the ULI study may provide the town more time to figure out how to fund the demolition.
CPA funding would also carry deed restrictions requiring it to be used for open space, historic preservation or passive recreation unless the town reimburses the CPA for use of its funds.
“I don’t want to start getting into taxes, that has to be a last resort,” McGahan said.
Funding for over-55 housing has been drying up in recent years, but is more likely for multi-generational housing or a project linked to proximity to the commuter rail, DiMascio said the committee has found. An abutter suggested looking into bringing a Recovery Centers of America treatment facility to the site, but she cautioned that — while it would have minimal traffic impact — a drug treatment facility may have more negatives for the town than benefits.
“We’re just putting up here what we’ve found, we’re not promoting anything at this moment,” she said.
In other business, Selectmen authorized Town Administrator Michael McCue to work with the town’s labor lawyer Leo Peloquin on the inquiry into Camp Kiwanee operations, and to require Recreation Commission members and camp employees to fully cooperate, including their providing all requested documents and participation in interviews with Peloquin and McCue.
Selectmen declined an amendment, suggested by Selectman Bruce Young, to the original motion to limit the inquiry to 30 days. The amendment did not receive a second, and was not accepted.
“It’s been going on for too long, I want it to get resolved,” Young said.
“My understanding in discussions with counsel is that the cooperation has been not up to par,” McGahan said in speaking against a time limit. He suggested giving McCue until the June 28 meeting to determine how the process is going. The inquiry had already been voted, Tuesday’s vote only allows McCue to help.
New Recreation Commission Chairman James Hickey said employees are feeling uneasy about the lingering inquiry and also advocated a time limit.
Selectman Don Howard recused himself, as he had in the past because of a relative who abuts Kiwanee. While that is no longer the case, McCue said Howard was permitted to recuse himself for any reason without explanation and he preferred to do so.