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Winning Home Inc. taking new route to helping children

By JAMES HAGGERTY, news@woburnonline.com

Woburn - With plans now moving forward for its Lexington Street parcel in West Woburn, Winning Home Inc. officials are hoping to close one chapter of their history and start a new one.


The new chapter is really already underway as interest on the funds raised from the sale of its Winning Farm land in Winchester, Lexington and Woburn, are starting to be distributed. To date, some $350,000 has been distributed to such organizations as the Woburn Boys & Girls Club and the Woburn Council of Social Concern.


Though assets (as of 12/31/01) for Winning Home Inc. were listed at $1.5 million from the sale of land in Winchester and Lexington, the number is expected to grow to at least $5 million if and when the sale of the Woburn site is complete, Winning Home Inc. Treasurer Albert Curran said recently.


If assets reach the $5 million range, Curran said he would like to see a day when Winning Home Inc. would be giving out upward of $1 million a year to charities fitting the original will of William Henry Winning, established in 1898, which is "to provide and care for the needs of poor and destitute children."


Curran, along with Winning Home Inc. Board of Director Thomas Martin, recently visited the Daily Times Chronicle to update the history of why the land was eventually sold, provide a status report on the controversial landfill on the Woburn portion of the site, and outline where Winning Home Inc. is heading in the next 100 years.


As to why the decision was made to sell of the parcels in the three towns, Curran said the changing nature of state regulations on camps and childcare through the 1960s and 1970s basically put an end to the original way it helped under-privileged youth. To keep running Winning Farm as a camp, more staff would have been needed as well as considerable upgrades to the facility, something which wasn't deemed cost-effective, Curran said.


The board then decided the best way to continue to help destitute children was to sell the land, invest the money, and make donations off the interest. After deciding to sell the land and after several different options were reviewed, it was Burlington developer Robert Murray who came up with the best offer for the Woburn parcel. Through negotiations with Mayor Robert Dever and other city officials, the new townhouse zoning regulations were developed to at least save half the land in Woburn as open space.


Contamination controversy

However, the plans for Murray's 147-unit townhouse development were slow to make it to the point of presentation before the City Council, Planning Board, and Conservation Commission as the issue of contamination at the landfill on site drew headlines. The issue of the landfill, Curran said, was basically a good idea gone bad. The idea was to fill in a section of the farm and create soccer and ball fields for the youth of the area. However, regulations again changed and Winning Home Inc. was caught in the middle.


"At the time there was nothing illegal (about bringing in the fill)," Martin said, noting the regulations changed as the work was ongoing and the state ordered the work to be stopped. Martin said test after test has been done as the sale of the land has moved forward and has shown that nothing is in the fill that could be considered dangerous, despite concerns listed to the contrary by at least two local groups. "In addition to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, several other independent environmental engineering firms have all determined that the material put on the land was 'typical construction and demolition debris' and poses no health or environmental risk," a Winning Home Inc. flyer states.


"I will stand here on a stack of bibles and say I know where the fill came from and nothing bad is in there," Martin said. "And I have been proven right." Said Coleman Nee, president of JKN Strategies, hired by Winning Home Inc. as a consultant, "(Winning Home Inc.) doesn't have an environmental problem, it has a community relations problem." However, the contamination controversy has slowed the permitting process as appeal after appeal is filed as Winning Home Inc. and Murray move forward on the plans for the townhouses. And, Curran feels it will continue to be slow going as more appeals are expected as other decisions are rendered. If and when the special permits and the other necessary state and local approvals are granted to Murray for the townhouses, it will mark the end of this chapter for Winning Home Inc.


"We are two-thirds of the way there, I don't see how we can turn around now," Curran said. To date, some of the donations listed by Winning Home Inc. are:

- $135,000 to the Woburn Boys & Girls Club over the past two years;

- $100,000 to the Geoffrey Foundation in support of financially disadvantaged hearing impaired children;

- $50,000 to the Woburn Council of Social Concern;

- $15,000 to the Mission of Deeds.