Historical Commission sets stage for development project on Worcester State Hospital land

WORCESTER – The planned development of 44 acres of state land at the former Worcester State Hospital campus off Belmont Street has cleared a regulatory hurdle that sets the stage for the demolition of some of the remaining smaller remnants of the hospital.


The Historical Commission has unanimously agreed to waive the city’s demolition delay ordinance for four cottages located in the southeast portion of the proposed development site (21-24 Hospital Drive).


The two-story brick homes, which are listed on the Massachusetts Cultural Resources Information System and were part of a National Register District that included the former Worcester State Hospital, were built around 1920 and were single-family homes for doctors and staff who worked at the hospital.


Because the cottages are listed on MACRIS, they are subject to the city’s demolition delay ordinance, which puts a one-year hold on the razing of historic structures.


Julie Holstrom, senior project manager for the Worcester Business Development Corp, which is working to develop a bio-manufacturing park at the 44-acre site, said the demolition of the cottages is the first phase of the project.


Three of the cottages have long been vacant and are in pretty tough condition because of disrepair, she said.


Ms. Holstrom said a fourth cottage, located at 21 Hospital Drive, is partially occupied by the company that provides security and management services for the state-owned property. Those operations will be relocated elsewhere when the development project moves forward, she said.


Meanwhile, the nearby 3½-story Hale Building, which was built in the early 1900s and served as a nurses’ home for the hospital, is not slated for demolition during the first phase.


Ms. Holstrom told the Historical Commission last Thursday night that the Hale Building has been mothballed, and the WBDC wants to look at it later for potential reuses.


While there is no guarantee that building will be preserved, WBDC has agreed to keep it around a while longer to see if potential uses can be found for it.


The project site is currently under control of the state. The WBDC is in the process of negotiating a Land Disposition Agreement with the state for the conveyance of the property, which includes the four cottages, the Hale Building, the Community HealthLink building (275 Belmont St) and the state Department of Developmental Services building at Belmont Street and Hospital Drive.


Ms. Holstrom said the electrical and heating systems have essentially been removed from most of the buildings. The WBDC is looking to site about a 100,000-square-foot pharma-manufacturing operation there, as part of a bio-manufacturing park.


Andrew Shveda, chairman of the Historical Commission, said while it is a shame to see the smaller remaining remnants of the Worcester State Hospital campus become a thing of the past, he said their removal will lead to a higher and better use of the land.


He added that the city and state have gone to great lengths to keep some of the larger and more significant architectural elements of the former hospital.


“These buildings, while they’re very nice and very quaint, they do have a connection historically to the Worcester State Hospital campus,” Mr. Shveda said. “But that campus has obviously changed considerably given the present uses of the site and radical changes to it.


“It would be nice to find a use for (the cottages), but open space is difficult to find these days,” he added. “Their removal will lead to the highest and best use of that property.”