Committee Explores Future for Hartford Office; Ashland Land

Committee Explores Future for Hartford Office; Ashland Land

The Hartford office at 125 Sherman Street.
As the formation of the Southern New England Conference was underway, one of the most frequently asked questions was: where will the office be?
The Board of Directors at the time deferred that question, saying they would establish a vision and mission first, and then would concentrate on putting in place the staff to carry it out.  Property decisions, they said, would come later.
Then, before the new staffing structure was even in place, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and the question of office space suddenly lost all urgency. Since March, 2020, the vast majority of SNEUCC staffers have worked remotely.
This fundamental shift in culture has given the Board’s Property Committee – established in the fall of 2021 with a mission to review all of the property owned by the Conference – an obvious place to begin its work. To date, the committee has spent its time considering the Conference’s two most under-utilized properties: the Hartford, CT, office and vacant land that sits in Ashland, MA.
“Covid has changed a lot, not only how we deliver our faith to our congregants, but also how the Conference manages itself,” said Chip Hamblet, a Board member serving on the committee. “We’ve had to work remotely, and we’ve done so successfully.”
Rev. Wendy Miller Olapade, who is chairing the committee, said they are keeping the Conference’s vision and mission front and center as they look at these properties.
“Our goal is to discern the best use of the Conference’s properties, guided by our purpose,” she said. “We have become a regional organization. The forms and expressions of ‘making love and justice real’ are changing as the church and our world change. This committee has been called to creatively and thoroughly consider the stewardship of these assets and bring a recommendation to the SNEUCC and Historic Conference Boards for their decision."
Both said that the vacant Ashland land, and the Hartford office, are not serving to further that vision.
“An unused piece of property still costs the Conference money to maintain,” Hamblet said. “If we can convert that non-performing asset to something that’s of benefit to our churches – that’s carrying out our mission.”
The Hartford office building at 125 Sherman Street is a 1950’s era free-standing brick building with a dozen offices, large and small meeting rooms and a small kitchen. It has three floors with no elevator. It is now only regularly used by an accounting assistant and the executive assistant, and Hamblet said office space for them could be found elsewhere if needed.
The Ashland property is at the far west end of the 100-plus acre property where the Framingham offices, Edwards House Meeting & Retreat Center, and Pilgrim Day Camp are located. The land, which fronts a residential street, has never been used by the camp or the Conference. Historic Massachusetts Conference Annual Meeting delegates in 2002 authorized selling the land, but at the time there was no sewer service available, and the land proved unsuitable for septic, making it undesirable. A sewer line has since been put in, substantially increasing the value of the property. Delegates authorized the sale again in 2017, but that process was put on hold as the formation of the Southern New England Conference was beginning.
Rev. Miller Olapade and Hamblet said the committee has secured real estate appraisals for both properties, but said they are factoring in more than money as they consider the options. Again, they are keeping the Conference’s vision in mind.
With the Hartford office, they are in conversation with a nonprofit religious organization that may be an interested buyer. In Ashland, Executive Conference Minister Rev. Darrell Goodwin has met with the Town Manager, beginning a conversation about what future use of the site might reflect a shared mission of both the Conference and the town.
“The committee is asking some deep questions,” Rev. Miller Olapade said. “We won’t make recommendations solely based on who is the highest bidder. The committee wants to make recommendations to the Board that are aligned with our values.”
She said what the committee is learning now in asking these questions and working with these two properties will guide them when they are ready to review the other Conference assets: The Framingham property that includes the historic Massachusetts offices, Edwards House and Pilgrim Day Camp; Irons Homestead in Glocester, RI; and Silver Lake Camp & Retreat Center in Sharon, CT.
“The committee is aware of the important relationships that our people and churches have with these historic and beloved spaces. The connections and attachments are tender and dear. Thus we understand there may be some anxiety or even fear around what we are doing,” Rev. Miller Olapade said.  “Our intention and commitment is to comprehensively consider, review and reflect on the spiritual and programmatic value of all of these properties. Only then will we bring a recommendation to the boards for their consideration and decision.”

Kate Ostertag, Executive for Camps & Retreats for Edwards House, Irons Homestead and temporarily for Silver Lake, is the staff liaison to the Property Committee. 



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Tiffany Vail

Tiffany Vail is the Director of Media & Communications for the Southern New England Conference.

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