MCI-Concord could shut down as soon as this June, officials say. Photo by Celeste Katz Marston

Officials grapple with MCI-Concord closure’s impact, potential

By Celeste Katz Marston and Jennifer Lord Paluzzi
January 24, 2024

Town officials were coming to grips Wednesday with the impact — and the potential — of the state’s decision to shutter MCI-Concord and move its inmates and correctional officers to another prison.  

As first reported Tuesday night by The Concord Bridge, the Massachusetts Department of Correction intends to shut down the prison, which had been housing inmates at less than 60% of capacity, as soon as June.  

The question is what those purposes might be — and under whose control they’d be carried out on the more than 60 acres occupied by the medium-security prison, which is situated in West Concord right on the Route 2 rotary.  

Concord Town Manager Kerry Lafleur said the new development “presents a tremendous opportunity to explore site re-use.   

“The property, as well as the prison’s wastewater treatment facility, are of specific interest to Concord,” Lafleur said, “and we look forward to working with our partners at the state to better understand its potential.” 

The medium-security men’s prison dates back to 1878. Photo by Celeste Katz Marston

Gov. Maura Healey said during a Wednesday press conference that closing the prison will mean a cost savings of about $16 million for the state. 

“It also reflects that our prison population has declined,” she said. “It’s at the lowest point that it has been in 35 years. This is important, not just for cost savings. It’s a matter of justice, too.” 

The state has worked to identify property that can be repurposed for affordable housing and other critical needs, she added. Disposal of the property is included in her proposed Fiscal Year 2025 budget. 

“The purpose that it’s being used for right now doesn’t really right-size to the moment and the needs that we face,” Healey said. 

This marks the second prison shutdown in the state. Back in April 2022, the state began the process of shutting down MCI-Cedar Junction in Walpole.

Concord Select Board Clerk Mary Hartman also hailed the news as “a great opportunity” for the town.   

“We already have several substantial housing projects in the pipeline, so I would like to explore commercial development at this site. The site comes with its own wastewater treatment facility, so one frequent impediment to commercial development is removed,” Hartman said.  

“Heck, maybe we can convert the prison into a luxe hotel, similar to what Boston did to the Charles Street jail,” she said. (That 1851 edifice was shut down as a prison in 1990, acquired by Massachusetts General Hospital in 1991, leased to a developer in 2001, and is now operating as the upscale Liberty Hotel.) 

MCI-Concord’s inmates and corrrections staff will be transferred to other prisons, state officials say. Photo by Celeste Katz Marston

Select Board Chair Henry Dane said at this point, there are “many questions, few answers” stemming from the breaking prison closure news.  

“We need  to get a better grasp on the financial impact [closing] the prison will have on the town,” including payments in lieu of taxes, local employment, and Concord spending associated with the facility, Dane said.  

He said the town receives about $120,000 annually in state PILOT payments for the prison, but “you have to weigh against that the costs the town incurs on account of the prison.” As to the prison’s true financial impact on the town, Dane said, “it involves more complicated and indirect costs such as staffing levels, and we may never truly know.”

If the property were to come into Concord’s control, its value would “depend on the condition in which it would be delivered,” he added.  

“Demolition of the existing structures to allow housing or commercial use would be a significant expense. There are very few uses that require 20 [foot]-high concrete walls.” 

It’s not clear what will happen to the prison complex and the land once inmates and staff are transferred elsewhere. Photo by Celeste Katz Marston

Dane said the town is on the hunt for a new site for Concord Public Works, and that might be a possible use of the land.  

He echoed Hartman in saying Concord has been interested in the site’s treatment plant —  potentially to support the development of Junction Village affordable housing — but that would depend on the condition of the plant and other factors.  

Select Board member Mark Howell told The Bridge Wednesday afternoon that the closure news “raises a lot of questions that I expect we’ll address over time.

“I expect that this will begin a process that will involve both challenges and opportunities for the town,” he said.

“I look forward to understanding the details of what the state is proposing.”

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I hope the Concord community can be fully engaged with the Commonwealth to determine future uses for the MCI-Concord property,” said Keith Bergman, Concord’s representative to the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, a regional government research agency that tackles issues such as housing, public health and economic development. 

“I’ve reached out to MAPC Executive Director Marc Draisen, who will be sending a letter to Concord’s Select Board, Town Manager, and Planning Board offering MAPC’s assistance in this matter,” Bergman told The Bridge.

And “as chair of the Concord Municipal Affordable Housing Trust, I’ve scheduled an agenda item on this topic for the Trust’s meeting on Tuesday, January 30th, to discuss affordable housing as one of the potential reuses of the property,” Bergman said.

Housing Authority member Edward Larner, speaking on his own behalf, said he considered the prison news “an opportunity that will be vigorously pursued and [I] hope that any obstacles can be mitigated.”