Frank Wood deal hailed

Lower Mills leaders who met with several of the 11 developers who had entered bids to buy the site of the former Frank Wood nursing home along Morton Street said this week that they are pleased with the winner, Harbor Health Services. Last week, Harbor Health signed a purchase and sale agreement with the Boston Center for Blind Children, which owns the 5.8-acre site along Morton Street, to purchase it for $4.25 million.

Mike Skillin, longtime president of the Lower Mills Civic Association, said that the Harbor Health plan was appealing because it involved a program that already had a presence in the neighborhood.

Harbor Health plans to use the site to re-locate and grow an adult day health program called the Elder Service Plan that they operate in space leased from St. Gregory's Parish. Dan Driscoll, president and CEO of Harbor Health, said that the move is likely to allow them to expand the program from 225 to 300 seniors.

Of the handful of developers who met with the association's executive board, said Skillin, Lower Mills civic was most interested in Harbor Health or in a bid that would have allowed Evergreen, the social service agency and parent company of several of the site's current tenants, to buy the property.

"I think [Harbor Health] was the neighborhood's preferred tenant because they currently rent space at St. Greg's, where they've outgrown their space," said Skillin. "This was the program that people thought would have the least impact on the neighborhood."

Representatives from the Boston Prepratory Charter School in Hyde Park has also met with the executive board, said Skillin, but some abutters had balked at their proposal for fear that bus traffic during school days would overwhelm the neighborhood.

Evergreen's bid was denied in part because their offering price was considerably lower than the winning and top bids, said Chip Batchelder of Wyman Street Advisors, who represented the Boston Center for Blind Children.

Dr. Robert Littleton, executive director of Evergreen, declined to discuss the details of his agency's bid, or of plans to relocate the Adult Day Services program that Evergreen currently operates at the Morton Street site, because the programs employees had not been fully informed of the move.

"We're trying very hard to avoid disruption of services to participants in our Lower Mills program," said Littleton. He said specifics of the relocation plan would be finalized this week.

Batchelder said that Harbor Health benefited not only from name recognition among abutters and neighborhood leaders, but also from political clout with city and state electeds who helped facilitate the deal.

"We felt that the group we selected was conducive to the neighborhood, and they had a lot of political support,' said Batchelder.

A process of due diligence as well as an architectural and environmental assessment of the site will be completed before the property is officially closed upon, a process that Batchelder predicted might be completed by April 15.

Skillin was hopeful that Harbor Health representatives would bring their preliminary plans for the site to the civic association in February or March. Driscoll said last week that the assessments would help them determine whether the existing building, which once housed the Frank Wood nursing home, could be rehabilitated for their needs, or whether new buildings will need to be constructed. After that time, an architect will be hired, and Driscoll said it was too early to predict an overall timeline for the project.