Town keeping wary eye on lab property

The Battelle Institute is selling the 12-acre waterfront property adjacent to Snug Harbor.
The Battelle Institute is selling the 12-acre waterfront property adjacent to Snug Harbor.

Officials in Duxbury are keeping their eye on what might take the place of the Battelle Memorial Institute on its 12-acre waterfront property, now that the organization has decided to leave its longtime surroundings for a more modern facility in Norwell.

Town officials have formed an ad hoc group to help try to guide the Washington Street property’s future use, perhaps preserving some of the more historic of the nonprofit marine laboratory’s eight buildings, while looking to fend off dense housing development.

“There are very old Colonial ship captain-style homes along that street,” said Selectman Shawn Dahlen, a member of that five-member group. He said the prime land is private, residentially zoned property, but changes to its use would have to be approved. He said town officials could guide prospective buyers on what might be received positively by the town.


“We’re trying to be there to help shape expectations,” Dahlen said.

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Other members of the committee are Town Manager Rene Read, conservation administrator Joe Grady, Community Preservation Committee member Holly Morris, and Judith Barrett of the Zoning Board of Appeals.

Dahlen said density and streetscape would be of particular concern. Community preservation money might be available to encourage preservation of the more historic buildings, and historic building restrictions might also be pursued to maintain the character of the area, he said.

One upside for the town in a reuse of the property would be new tax revenue if an entity other than a nonprofit moves in.

But Dahlen said it will be several months, even years, before what goes in there is determined. “Nothing is going to happen overnight there,” he said.


Katy Delaney, a spokeswoman for Battelle, said that the institute will begin moving out this summer and that all operations are expected to be in the Norwell location by the end of September.

“We are working with the community; it is an important site,” she said in a phone interview from Battelle’s headquarters in Columbus, Ohio. “We want to make sure it’s sold to the right person and used in the right way.’’

Delaney declined to disclose how much Battelle is seeking for the property or any potential buyers.

The assessed value is more than $7 million, and unofficial estimates have put the price tag at somewhere between $10 million and $20 million.

The parcel lies on Duxbury Bay, adjacent to Snug Harbor. Houses border it on one side, while the 1803 Winsor House Inn, once a sea captain’s home, is located across the street.


Delaney said the relocation of the offices is necessary because the Duxbury buildings do not lend themselves to expansion. But, she said, the new facilities, located on a floor of Longwater Place in Norwell, are near enough that the institute’s 65 employees would not have to relocate from their homes.

“We are committed to Massachusetts and keeping jobs like that in the area,’’ she said. Battelle also has a subsidiary, Bluefin Robotics, in Quincy, which employs 150.

The Battelle Memorial Institute, which was provided for by steel industrialist Gordon Battelle in his 1923 will, has more than 100 locations worldwide, focusing on national security, government laboratory management, and energy, health, and the environment.

The company has had offices on Washington Street since 1965, when it took over the William F. Clapp Laboratories, which had operated there since the early 1930s.

According to an account that ran in the Duxbury Clipper in 1975, Clapp left the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology to focus on problems connected with marine organisms such as seaworms and their effects on structures and materials. He set up his own lab in the barn of the family property in Duxbury, according to the article on the history of the Clapp laboratories.

After Clapp died, an assistant took over and ran the labs until he died. Two years later, it became part of the Battelle Memorial Institute.

“The communities where we live and work benefit from our philanthropic and volunteer activities,” reads part of the mission statement on the company’s website.

Battelle has sponsored Duxbury’s “Beach Sweep” cleanup for more than 20 years, has worked with local science programs in the schools, and has been involved with the Boston Harbor cleanup.

The company, however, was the target of protests recently because some of the construction workers hired for the Norwell renovations were from out of state.

Delaney said 40 percent of the contracts for the $5 million project were awarded to union shops, with 60 percent going to nonunion shops.

“Our long-term goal is to keep jobs in Massachusetts and continue our investment in the state, which we are able to do by carefully managing our contracts and awarding them in
a cost-effective, responsible manner,” she said in an e-mail.

Jean Lang can be reached at jeanmcmillanlang@