Legislature approves Nantucket land sale

By Daniel J. Fitzgibbons

The sale of 110 acres of University-owned land on Nantucket to a conservation group won legislative approval on July 30.

The legislation, which must still be signed by the governor, allows the University to sell the harborfront parcel to the Nantucket Conservation Foundation for $20 million. The foundation is purchasing the property to protect its natural beauty and wildlife habitats from development.

Under the terms of the agreement, the foundation will pay UMass $20 million in five $4-million installments over the next five years and the University’s Nantucket Field Station will continue to occupy 65 acres of the property for teaching and research activities. An adjoining 45 acres will be open to the public for low-impact use that does not interfere with University research and teaching activities.

The University plans to use $12 million of the sale proceeds to support endowed environmental science faculty positions across the five-campus system. The remaining $8 million will endow a “University Excellence Fund” that will advance teaching and research.

The University acquired the property in 1963 when the Nina Hazen Foundation donated the estate of the late Stephen Peabody use as a teaching and research field station. In 1965, the late Katherine Coe Folger gave an additional gift of land. The field station site includes a 40-acre salt marsh, 2,000 feet of sandy beach on the harbor, mowed fields, upland shrub habitat and two one-acre freshwater ponds.

Four buildings, including residence space, classroom, laboratory, workshop, and office occupy the site on Nantucket harbor some five miles from Nantucket center. The student residence contains cooking, dining and classroom facilities, along with two bunkrooms accommodating 15 persons. A 1,200-square-foot laboratory provides workspace and bench space for visiting researchers. A two-story, 2,200 square-foot building houses a workshop used for maintenance. The shop building also houses a residence for the field station research director. There is also a cabin for the field station office.

President Jack M. Wilson praised passage of the measure, which was filed by Senate Ways and Means Committee Chairwoman Therese Murray, D-Plymouth, and sponsored by Sen. Robert O’Leary, D-Barnstable, and Rep. Eric Turkington, D-Falmouth. “This Legislature has moved boldly and creatively in creating a win-win situation for the University and the Nantucket Conservation Foundation,” Wilson said. “A unique living laboratory will be preserved so that our sons and daughters, and their sons and daughters will benefit from both its beauty and the lessons contained in its marshes and tidal pools.”

“UMass has been an excellent neighbor to the people of Nantucket, and that spirit of cooperation continues to this day,” said Richard Verney, president of the Nantucket Conservation Foundation. “The UMass property on Nantucket is by any measure, an environmental treasure deserving of lasting protection. The foundation’s trustees — indeed the entire Nantucket community — have an opportunity to forever protect this treasure from development.”