University acquires Warren Conference Center and Inn

(Photo By Brad Leuchte)

The Warren Conference Center and Inn in Ashland was purchased by FSU for a total of $8 million. The purchase had been discussed since fall of 2015, said Dale Hamel, executive vice president.

He added that the acquisition of the Warren Center from Northeastern was under discussion for the last few years but didn’t “come to fruition until the fall,” when the property was put on the market.

Four million dollars came from General Obligations bonds of the commonwealth, which the state is responsible for paying off. Two and half million dollars came from a supplemental appropriation from last fall and $1.5 million was financed by the University from the Massachusetts State College Building Authority, Hamel said.

President F. Javier Cevallos said in an email, “The Massachusetts State College Building Authority has officially acquired the 65-acre Warren Conference Center and Inn located in Ashland on behalf of Framingham State University.”

Cevallos said, “This acquisition stands to greatly benefit our community by allowing us to utilize the land and facilities for athletic and academic programs. … It also gives us space to host events and the opportunity to explore new programs, such as a hospitality major that would be the first of its kind in the state university system.

“The acquisition of the Warren Center offers great opportunities for our campus, academically as well as recreationally, as we hope to develop athletic fields and use the reservoir as well.”

He added, “The majority of the funding for this purchase was provided by the state. FSU’s contribution to the acquisition will be offset by the operating revenue of the Warren Center, so there is no negative impact to our finances.”

The purchase of the center was negotiated by the Division of Capital Asset Management, the Massachusetts State College Building Authority, Northeastern and the office of State Senator Karen Spilka, said Hamel.

According to Hamel, the acquisition of the center would not have occurred without the assistance of Spilka.

“She is the one who brought the parties together. She’s the one who made the state funding occur. We’re certainly grateful for her involvement and advocacy of this project,” he said.

Northeastern put the property on the market and received offers of interest “higher than what we ended up ultimately paying for the property,” Hamel added.

According to Hamel, the “highest and best use” would be to renovate the property for private housing, but there was a “willingness” on Northeastern’s behalf for the center to remain open for use.

Hamel said Northeastern initially was interested in having preference booking the center without consulting FSU, but they will go through the booking process “like any other outside agency” and they will not get “preference.”

He said FSU is “already utilizing the center” and there are several programs already scheduled there. There will be an open house scheduled for the campus community on Wednesday, May 25 at 3:30 p.m.

“In addition, we hope to see expanded programming out there … maybe the Wet Feet program” due to the availability of space on the property Hamel said. There are many ways to “utilize the property.”

The Warren Center will continue to operate as a conference center and will be available to book regularly in that capacity, Hamel added.

He said, “We also hope to create additional athletic opportunities. We’re kind of landlocked here.”

According to Hamel, there are various departments interested in using the center for academic purposes.

The Biology department has ongoing field trips that “take advantage of Lake Cochituate,” and the department could use the reservoir near the Warren Center instead of transporting the boats to and from FSU.

According to Carl Hakansson, associate professor and selectman for Ashland, “The Warren Center is centrally located and surrounded by Warren Woods conservation area on one side, Ashland State Park on the other side and the Massachusetts Audubon Wildlife Preserve at the far end.”

Because the private land is “protected under conservation restrictions,” there is a large and intact ecosystem of wildlife, birds and plant life, Hakansson added.   

“The area is also a unique combination of grassland and woodland ecology, as well as intermingling wetlands and uplands,” he said.

Hakansson said, “The Warren Center provides an excellent opportunity for classroom experiences both inside and in the field, and its proximity to the state park provides students the chance to work with the Department of Conservation and Recreation to gain experience and possible employment.”

While FSU was the process of purchasing the center, Ashland expressed interest in purchasing a portion of the land back, particularly the historic barn structure, according to Hamel.

Discussions concerning selling back part of the property have begun now that the sale for the center has officially closed, he added.

The Ashland town meeting approved up to $280,000 for “a portion of the Warren Center property, so now the question becomes, ‘What portion of that will be sold back to Ashland as well as the barn?’” Hamel said.

He added FSU must undertake an appraisal of the site and possibly other portions the town might have an interest in purchasing.

Any renovations and “renewal” will be paid for by the revenue the center accumulates, he added.

At this time, there are no specific renovations planned for the center, but “we will work with the managers to identify and prioritize annual capital adaptation and renewal projects,” Hamel said.

He said the Warren Center is a “stand-alone” facility and net income generated from this facility will pay off the $1.5 million FSU is responsible for as well as paying all operational costs of the center.