With inmates nearly gone, focus turns to what’s next for MCI-Concord

By Erin Tiernan — Erin@theconcordbridge.org

More than half the inmates housed at MCI-Concord when the state announced plans to shutter the 146-year-old men’s prison earlier this year have already been moved to other facilities, officials said.

The remaining 113 inmates are on track for relocation by the end of June — but when it comes to what’s next for the 62-acre property, state and local officials are just getting started.

“There will be a public process. We want to engage stakeholders both in Concord itself and the Middlesex County area on what’s needed,” said Tim McGuirk, a spokesperson for the state’s Executive Office of Public Safety and Security.

The prison land, which sits on the Route 2 rotary and is steps from the West Concord stop on the Fitchburg commuter rail line, is one of several properties in the area that will open for development in the next few years. 

Exactly what that process will look like is unfolding now.

Photo by Celeste Katz Marston

Cell blocks and committees

Concord’s Select Board has created a resident-led advisory board that will take the lead on advocating for the community’s needs as the state begins the process of offloading the property — but even getting to that point will take months. 

“There was a lot of interest in this, and we have an incredible skill base of people with real estate planning, architectural, technology experiences, not to mention experience with other similar state projects,” Select Board Clerk Mark Howell said. 

The goal is to “engage in a robust master planning process and really find out what this community wants and needs and interface hopefully in a really constructive way with the state.”

The state Department of Corrections has been emptying the cell blocks at MCI-Concord since Gov. Maura Healey’s administration announced its plan to close the prison in January. 

The facility’s official decommissioning, however, relies on legislative approval. The governor hopes to see it happen in the Fiscal Year 2025 state budget, which is now being debated on Beacon Hill. 

The state Senate and House of Representatives have each passed their own versions of a $58-billion state budget. Both bills included the governor’s language providing for the sale, lease, transfer, or disposal of the property by the Commonwealth’s Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance. 

The two chambers have a laundry list of differences to work out before any pen gets put to paper. 

After the Senate approved its budget last week, debate moved into closed-door conference committee negotiations as lawmakers seek to strike deals on key differences in the competing House and Senate budgets.

MCI-Concord is entangled in some of those differences.

Photo by Ken McGagh for The Concord Bridge

Money matters

State Sen. Michael Barrett (D-Third Middlesex) pushed through an amendment that would pump an extra $475,000 into Concord’s pockets “for planning the reuse and redevelopment of the former Massachusetts correctional institution,” for a total of $575,000, according to the amendment language. 

Similar language appears in the House budget bill.

An amendment from state Rep. Simon Cataldo (D-Concord) to the House bill would require the state Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance to study and conduct planning for the reuse of the MCI-Concord property. 

He also wants at least three public hearings in Concord, a written report at least 60 days before the transfer of the property and inclusion of the town in any negotiations for the sale, transfer, or lease of the property. 

If included in the final budget bill, the amendment would also give Concord a 180-day right of first refusal to any transfer of the wastewater treatment facility located on the property.

According to Cataldo’s amendment, the first public hearing on the future of the MCI-Concord property would happen 45 days after the budget takes effect. 

The fiscal year ends June 30, but budget deliberations have dragged on well past that date in recent years.