Select Board sets lease of Bromfield House for Afghan relief group

April 15, 2022 The Harvard Press BY MARTY GREEN

In a unanimous vote Monday, the School Committee turned over control of Bromfield House to the Select Board. And a day later, at its Tuesday meeting, the Select Board gave overall approval to a lease that will allow Afghan refugees to use the house for about a year.

Before calling for the vote, Chair SusanMary Redinger told the School Committee she had spoken with Select Board Chair Stu Sklar, who said further delay by the committee in giving up Bromfield House would hinder renting the house for the refugee families. Redinger expressed hope for further discussion about the property at the end of the rental period.

The School Committee’s vote acknowledged the school district no longer had any educational use for the house itself. But both in the meeting and later in an email to Town Administrator Tim Bragan, Redinger stated emphatically that the committee still strongly recommends keeping the land where the house stands because of its proximity to Hildreth Elementary School.

In her email, Redinger asked the Select Board to “consider the importance of this property as a potential education use in the future, and the value of land abutting the school district, especially as we face rising enrollments at HES [Hildreth Elementary School], and increased pressure for administrative space with the recent additions and/or changes in the structure of our leadership team.”

The School Committee had taken a similar vote to give up Bromfield House more than eight years ago, in December 2013. But that vote was conditional, “pending identification of other acceptable space” for the district administrative offices, which were then housed in the building. Town Counsel Mark Lanza recently advised a new vote stating simply that the School Committee was giving up the property; Monday’s vote meets that requirement.

The Select Board took up the question of Bromfield House’s future Tuesday evening. Sklar said no one had objected to the board’s petition asking the Worcester County Probate Court to allow renting Bromfield House to the refugees. The deadline for filing objections with the court was Tuesday morning. Sklar said he hoped the court would issue its decision soon.

After a lengthy discussion, the Select Board approved a lease to be offered to Ascentria Care Alliance of Worcester, which is arranging housing for the refugees. The lease would run from June 1 this year to June 1, 2023, with a possible month-by-month extension to Dec. 1, 2023. Rent was set at $1 a month, with Ascentria paying all utilities. The board’s vote authorized the chair to sign the lease after Lanza and Assistant Town Administrator Marie Sobalvarro settle a few remaining questions about the security deposit and insurance.

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