After reviewing possible uses ranging from senior housing to a sports field for Bromfield House and its land, the Bromfield House Committee voted last week to recommend selling the building for removal and keeping the land for a future town use.
The committee is scheduled to recommend that course of action to the Select Board at the board’s April 20 meeting. Ultimately, the Select Board will decide what plan for the property to put up for a vote at Spring Town Meeting.
The vote on the committee was split 4-2, with members Pam Marston and Steven Ford voting to sell the house and land together as a private home. They reasoned that the traditional building is a handsome landmark at the gateway to town center and that its property taxes as a home would bring revenue to the town. Much of the house’s value to potential buyers, Ford said, is in its location. While money from such a sale would go to the Bromfield Trust for educational purposes, they said, the money would still benefit the town indirectly. And selling both the house and the land would save the town the estimated $50,000 cost of cleaning up the site after the house was removed.
But the majority—committee Chair Rich Maiore and members SusanMary Redinger, Pat Jennings, and Bill Ference—countered that having a piece of land in the town center might someday be vital for public use. Ference expressed the idea most strongly, saying, “This parcel is almost immeasurably valuable to the town” because of its location. He said if the committee and the Select Board were to sell off Bromfield House and its land, future Harvard residents might well look back and say, “What the hell did they do that for?”
Erin Murphy, who lives in Salem and has a strong interest in historic preservation, spoke during public comment period, saying she and her family hope to move to Harvard, and she was interested in buying Bromfield House where it stands now. She pointed out that the cost of buying a lot, installing a septic system, moving the house, and doing the necessary renovation on it in a new location would be prohibitive for many potential buyers. If the house is sold to someone who plans to move it, she said, the usual practice would be to sell it for a dollar.
Bev Dunlap Rodrigues of Old Littleton Road, whose grandfather lived in Bromfield House for many years while he was principal of the Bromfield School, also spoke in support of keeping the building as a home in its present location.
Chair Maiore admitted, “This gives me no joy. We’re going to remove a beautiful, historic building, … and it may sit vacant for a while.” Bromfield trustee Pete Jackson said the land would have to be used for educational purposes, according to a probate court ruling. But Maiore replied the legal issues were still unresolved.
All the committee members agreed they hoped the house would not be demolished, which Maiore said might cost about $75,000. Jennings said demolishing it would cause “a huge backlash” in town. But the committee also agreed that letting the house stand empty would involve expense to the town, particularly for insurance and minimal maintenance such as lawn mowing.
Maiore suggested the committee recommend a window of 24 months in which to find someone willing to move Bromfield House to a new location. If no one comes forward, Maiore said, then the town will have to look for another option. “I think we all know what that would be,” he said.