Following Ayer town meeting’s decision to rezone the 40-acre site of Nashoba Valley Medical Center (NVMC) as a “Health Care Services District,” the process will begin to move forward to tear down the current facility and build an expanded hospital and medical office building on the current site. I call on the Ayer Board of Selectmen, the Ayer Planning Board, Essent Healthcare (the current owners of NVMC), and the town’s business and property owners to re-think this current course of action. It is apparent that Groton Road in Ayer is not an appropriate location for a facility of the size, scope, and use as the expanded hospital/medical office building that will be built. The reasons are clear:
1) it is not consistent with Ayer’s Comprehensive Implementation Plan of March 2005.
2) it means further loss of invaluable open space the town of Ayer can ill-afford to lose.
3) there is no access to public transportation.
4) it is not easily accessible by major state roads.
5) it is not a centralized location for what will be a regional medical facility.
6) it means the paving of approx. 3.5 acres for parking and the building of a six-story office building in an area of residential zoning, farmland, scenic vistas and grazing livestock.
7) it will hurt small businesses in Ayer’s central business district.
I encourage the stakeholders mentioned above to look for alternative locations for this facility. One alternative to be explored is placing the facility near the train station in downtown Ayer. The advantages of such an approach are:
1) Essent Healthcare would gain easy access to public transportation. After the upgrade to the rail line is complete, patients, doctors, and employees would be able to travel from as far away as Boston or Cambridge to the east and Fitchburg to the west in less than one hour. The facility would be in a wonderful position to attract significant numbers of doctors, patients, specialists, medical students, and researchers.
2) Essent Healthcare would also be in an ideal location to establish numerous collaborative affiliations with world-renowned Boston teaching hospitals and research centers.
3) the state of Massachusetts would gain a facility located closer to Route 2 that does not have a negative environmental impact. The new site is also more consistent with smart growth principles and making medical care easily accessible.
4) downtown property and business owners would in all likelihood see their property and business values rise significantly. This would revitalize the downtown business district, improve the tax base, and avoid the negative effect on neighborhood property values that expanding upon the current site would cause.
5) the MBTA would see ridership increase and would also have tremendous incentive to upgrade the train station and perhaps even partner with Essent in sharing some of the infrastructure costs associated with the site.
I ask the Ayer BOS and Planning Board to facilitate discussions between Essent Healthcare and downtown property owners to see if their mutual interests can be met by exploring this possibility. The MBTA and the state Office for Transit-Oriented Development could also potentially be active and helpful partners in this endeavor.
Instead of having a new but outdated medical office park whose location runs contrary to current trends in transportation, land use, and the provision of health care, Ayer and Essent Healthcare could create a cutting-edge regional health care facility that would serve as a model for the provision of 21st century health care in Massachusetts.