Authored by Steve Laferriere
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The Fernald Center Re-envisioned

July 10th, 2014 by Steve Laferriere

Earlier this year, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts announced a proposal to sell the Fernald Center to the City of Waltham. The approximately 190-acre site is still home to six residents, but has been slated to close since 2003.

The site has served the public since it opened in 1848 and has historically been a supportive home and therapeutic institution for folks with developmental disabilities or mental illnesses, orphans and the homeless. Metro West Collaborative Development and the Fernald Working Group, a coalition of Waltham organizations, believe the site can continue to serve people with a range of incomes and abilities, if the State and City elected officials focus on maximizing the goals and visions of local residents. Metro West CD has been supporting the Fernald Working Group as it develops a community-based plan for the reuse of the Fernald Center site.

At its peak in the 1960’s, the Fernald Center was home to 2,600 residents. It is the largest potentially developable tract of land within Route 128, and according to Metro West CD and the Working Group, it represents the most significant opportunity in our lifetime to meet several social and economic needs, given that it is publicly owned. Both organizations believe the transfer of the property from the Commonwealth to the City of Waltham should require the City to engage its residents in a robust and comprehensive planning process to ensure the best possible redevelopment of the site.

The Fernald Working Group vision calls for increased open space, housing for a range of incomes and abilities, restoration of some of the services and resources that used to exist on site, increased transit options and more. The Fernald Working Group envisions permanently preserving the portion of the Western Greenway that goes through the property, and daylighting the stream that is now in underground pipes running from the northwest corner of the property, south through the center of the campus. Existing buildings may be renovated to preserve the history of the site and complemented with modern, environmentally sustainable structures to create a small village in between the Western Greenway and the stream. A new “village” neighborhood might be attractive to residents with a range of incomes and abilities, who could be drawn to the recreational and service amenities on-site and therefore be less reliant on cars.

Metro West Collaborative Development is proud to support the Fernald Working Group as it looks forward to working with the City of Waltham to ensure that the Fernald Center continues to serve the public good in perpetuity. 

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