The transformation of Science Park’s remaining dilapidated factory buildings into biotechnology laboratories is nearing a big step forward.
The developer of Science Park and the owners of part of the site have almost reached an agreement to end a prolonged dispute over the removal of hazardous materials from the property. The company chosen to redevelop the site, Lyme Properties, is finalizing negotiations with U.S. Repeating Arms Co. and Olin Corp. in order to proceed with building renovations on the 80-acre biotechnology park.
“The finish line is in sight,” said Laura Woznitsky, the project manager for Lyme Properties. “It seems to me and to others involved that we have a document that has been drafted, and we are soliciting final comments and wrapping up.”
Environmental concerns have hindered further redevelopment of the Science Park facility, which was once home to Winchester Arms Co., an ammunition plant that employed over 40,000 people in its heyday during World War II. Because environmental regulations were not in place at the time, hazardous materials like asbestos, lead and hydrocarbon byproducts still lie in the ground and in the facility’s abandoned buildings.
In order for further improvements to take place on the commercially viable property, the materials must be effectively disposed of. The state Department of Environmental Protection got a court order to mandate a cleanup of the harmful wastes, and the question of who bears financial responsibility for it has been a source of contention between Lyme, U.S. Repeating Arms and Olin.
“Clearly all of these things have to be defined now, or they’ll result in delay when the project is under way,” said Richard Grossi, the chairman of Science Park’s board of directors.
Grossi said he is hopeful that an agreement will be reached in the very near future.
“Things have been moving along,” Grossi said. “What has taken some time is the attempt to coordinate the [court-ordered] cleanup — with the cleanup that Lyme will have to undertake with that development.”
The renovations that Lyme has proposed would expand the commercial potential of the Science Park facility by creating more laboratory space for biotechnology companies and research. At its present level of development the park has reached its commercial capacity, but renovations and construction could bring the site up to two million square feet of lab space.
“Once we sign the transfer agreement, we’ll immediately proceed to ground-leasing and immediately start work to stabilize those buildings,” Woznitsky said.
Two buildings on the site have recently undergone renovations and are now occupied by commercial tenants. The next building slated for renovation is Building 25, which Lyme may develop in June. Former manufacturing buildings that lie unused on the site offer 750,000 square feet of space, but some are so decrepit they may have to be demolished.
Grossi said that the park will not be renovated overnight and that the property poses great challenges. But he and Woznitsky said they are optimistic about the park’s upcoming redevelopment.
“I’m feeling positive,” Woznitsky said.