After languishing for months in Probate Court, a petition to allow the leasing of the Bromfield House to a nonprofit refugee support group will soon get a hearing.
That hearing is scheduled for 9 a.m. on June 29 at the Worcester Probate and Family Court in downtown Worcester. The judge will be asked to rule on a seven-page petition, filed on behalf of the Select Board by Town Counsel Mark Lanza earlier this spring, that asks the court to authorize the town to temporarily house Afghan refugees in the Bromfield House by renting or leasing the building to Ascentria Care Alliance, an organization helping place refugee families in Massachusetts. The petition stipulates that any payments received by the town be used for “educational purposes” in accordance with the will of Margaret Bromfield Blanchard.
The Select Board voted to lease Bromfield House to Ascentria at its Jan. 4 meeting. Following that vote, Select Board member Erin McBee and Suzanne Poitras of the Bromfield Trust—along with lawyers for both groups—tried to work out a joint petition to the probate court, which has the authority to judge whether the plan accords with the will of Margaret Bromfield Blanchard, who built the house as a residence for the head of the Bromfield School. But the two stakeholders were unable to agree on a joint document, and the Select Board decided to move ahead, filing its petition on March 11.
Harvard’s petition was followed by a 17-page supporting document from state Sen. Jamie Eldridge, a so-called amicus curiae or “friend of the court” brief, which the senator filed on April 1. The attorney general’s office quickly reviewed the town’s petition and gave its assent on April 11. But there has been no action since then. Meanwhile, the Harvard Neighborhood Support Team has relocated the families it had hoped to accommodate in Bromfield House from Friendly Crossways to Bolton and will soon lose that option as well. (See story above.)
To speed up the process, the Select Board had proposed to the Bromfield Trust that it sign an assent to the board’s petition, but after discussion, the trustees chose not to, even though, according to their chair, Pete Jackson, they support the board’s plan. They will instead wait for the June 29 hearing to decide the matter.
In an email to the Press, Jackson wrote that the trustees did not want to be seen as assuming liability by assenting. “After all,” he wrote, “Bromfield House is owned by the town and will be managed by the town during the lease. The town takes all the risk.”
According to Jackson, the trustees would have preferred a joint petition to sell the property, in compliance with a 1981 court decree that provided that should the building ever be sold, the proceeds would be used for “educational purposes.” Jackson wrote that the town could then have amended that petition for temporary use. “I think the court would have approved the sale since it is in compliance [with the 1981 ruling] and seeing no objection from the Bromfield trustees to the attached town amendment, this might have been resolved by now.”
Jackson was unsure whether a representative of the trust would appear at the June 29 hearing. “Either by a document sent before the hearing or by personal attendance, we will not object to the temporary use [of the building],” he wrote. “We have not changed that position since back in March when the petition was submitted by Mark Lanza.”