Trustees propose relocating Conference offices

May 21, 2015

At the Annual Conference session in June, the Board of Trustees will bring a recommendation to sell the current Conference Center office building and find a new space that is less costly, more welcoming and better suited to the needs and size of the current staff.
The five-story building, located at 276 Essex St. in Lawrence, MA, was built around 1912. It currently houses the Conference and Episcopal offices as well as the Tri-State and Metro Boston Hope District offices. The Conference first occupied the building under a lease/purchase agreement beginning in 1996, and purchased the building in 2002 for $350,000.
The current location presents a number of challenges – including a lack of parking and handicapped accessibility, high costs for maintenance and operation and needed repairs. And while the space, overall, is larger than needed to accommodate the 19-member staff, it is inflexible, inefficient and does not suit our current reality.
Another challenge is the third floor; it is occupied by a business associate of the building’s former owner, but does not generate any rental income for the Conference. The arrangement was a provision in the purchase agreement that allows the fur business to remain in the building indefinitely and pay only a nominal amount toward expenses.
The Trustees are proposing selling the current building – which has been appraised to have a market value of $850,000 – and acquiring space at another location in the Merrimack Valley. A specific site has not been determined.
The Trustees plan to secure financing for up to $1,250,000 to acquire a new facility with an estimated 10,000 square feet at a cost of $125/sq. ft. The current space is 13,000 to 14,000 square feet.
The acquisition of a new building or office space would not be contingent on the sale of the Lawrence property, but the anticipated revenue from the eventual sale would be used to pay back a portion of the cost of the new office space.
The Trustees recommendation would authorize the Trustees to:

  •  seek out and acquire a new location for the Conference Center,
  •  secure financing of up to $1,250,000 to acquire new facilities,                                                                     
  •  list and sell the Essex Street building

 Any final action would require the written approval of the Bishop.

Evaluation and appraisal process

As a recommendation from Bishop Peter Weaver’s Financial Summit in 2011-12, the Trustees contracted with Hudson Design Group of North Andover, MA, to complete a facility audit. The final report from that audit was received in May 2014.
Hudson Design created five categories of issues and estimated the costs and timelines for addressing them.

  • Life/safety issues – Doors, fire extinguishers, chimney repair, stairway handrails
  • Code compliance – water heater, exhaust vents
  • Imminent repairs – boiler replacement, HVAC replacements, repairs to front façade of building
  • Intermediate repairs – roof; electrical switch gear
  • Long-term repairs – carpet, paint, re-point façade bricks

The report also included the estimated timeline and costs of these repairs. The total for the needed repairs is $1,240,850; about $10,000 less than the estimated cost of purchasing a new building.

  • Life Safety – (now) $71,350
  • Code Compliance – (3-11 months) $31,000
  • Imminent – (12-36 months) $655,00
  • Intermediate – (37-60 months) $346,000
  • Long-term – (greater than 60 months) $137,500

Bishop Sudarshana Devadhar suggested bringing the General Council on Finance and Administration (GCFA) in to study Conference operations. In early 2015, John Bishop, GCFA board member and a member of the New Jersey Conference, spent a half-day at the Conference Center.
His evaluation included the following:

  • The building is severely underutilized: Conference staff occupies on three of five floors, but the heating and cooling systems serve the entire building.
  • The floor layout is not adaptable and requires duplicate facilities such as bathrooms and  kitchens on each floor
  • Handicapped accessibility is not fully achieved; for example, there are no handicapped accessible restrooms.

“After conversations with several stakeholders, the Trustees unanimously have endorsed the passage of this resolution as a means to make more effective use of Conference resources, improve the situation for persons who work or visit the Conference offices, and support mission and ministry throughout the New England Conference,” said Bernard H. Campbell, Esq., President of the Board of Trustees, New England Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.