Thursday, July 5, 2012
Outcry halts sale of Stoughton station

STOUGHTON — The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority recently put the 130-year-old railroad station in downtown Stoughton up for sale, much to the surprise of town officials.

State legislators, on behalf of the town, have since secured a temporary halt to the sale process, but the fate of the historic granite station remains uncertain. The station carries a price tag of $350,000, which many in Stoughton argue is too high.

The town has been interested in owning the railroad station for more than a year. Acting Town Manager Joseph Feaster called the building “a linchpin property in terms of what we want to do in the downtown.”

Feaster said a master planning committee is working on revitalizing Stoughton center. “We want to have site control, and we plan to do everything in our power to make sure the town will own the station property,” he said.

The train station, built in 1888 of rough-hewn native granite, is one of only two Stoughton buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Well-known Boston architect Charles Brigham designed the building in Classical Revival style. Its 62-foot stone tower is the last of its kind in the state, according to a 1967 report prepared by Architectural Heritage Inc.

The firm called the station “one of Brigham’s best designs.”

While Stoughton officials have complained they were blindsided by the T’s marketing of the station, MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo said in an e-mail that Stoughton had been offered the property first.

“The MBTA advertised for bids after the town decided not to bring the proposed purchase to the May Town Meeting,” Pesaturo said. He said rail officials were then contacted by “parties interested in the property” and therefore put it out to bid.

Feaster argued the state approached the town too late to include funding for the purchase on the annual Town Meeting warrant. He said he explained to rail officials “any discussion would have to be in the future.”

The acting town manager said he was therefore surprised to see “for sale” signs on the train station and an advertisement posted on the transportation authority’s website.

Feaster contacted Stoughton’s state legislators. Senator Brian Joyce was able to get the bid process halted.

Pesaturo said rail officials are now “working with Senator Joyce in an effort to find a resolution.”

Whether the town and the state can agree upon a price remains a tough question. Massachusetts law stipulates state-owned properties must yield market value, in this case $350,000.

To make the deal more palatable, state Representatives Louis Kafka and William Galvin have sponsored an amendment to the state Transportation Bond Bill, currently before the Legislature, that would provide Stoughton with $175,000. The town would be required to match the amount.

Many in Stoughton argue the town shouldn’t have to pay anything for the station, since residents raised $1 million in 1988 and refurbished the building for its centennial celebration.

“The sentiment exists that failure on the part of the MBTA to maintain the building after the centennial money was put in should mean the building should revert to us,” Feaster said.

Stoughton historian Howard Hansen said the town should have taken ownership of the station 50 years ago, when the state took over the rail properties abandoned by private corporations.

“Legally, the station should have gone into the hands of Stoughton for unpaid taxes,” Hansen said.

Hansen said the town leased the station for about 20 years and paid for heat and some minor repairs even after the lease expired. The station has been closed for the last few years. “They’re asking $350,000, but I think they should credit the town for the maintenance we did over the years,” Hansen said.

Selectman John Anzivino takes it a step further. “My personal opinion is the state should not only give us the building, they should renovate it first,” the said.

Anzivino called the station “a key piece of downtown redevelopment,” but his colleague, Selectwoman Cynthia Walsh, said her “vision isn’t so grand as to pay money for this.”

Walsh worries the station could become a money pit. “Right now, there’s plastic over the train station windows, no heat and no working bathrooms,” she said. “I’m not in favor of purchasing it until I know what it would cost to bring it up to code.”

Walsh pointed out some stations have been reused as restaurants, but rail officials are including only 25 parking places with the station sale. “That’s not enough to run a successful business in that building,” she said.

“Easton turned their rail station into a museum, but we already have a museum in another historic building,” Walsh said. “How many museums can a small town support?”