DCR has another lease problem

Newton Country Day School's Daly Rink has unapproved boathouse

THE MASSACHUSETTS DEPARTMENT of Conservation and Recreation, which has had a lot of difficulty managing leases of state property in the past, has another problem on its hands.

Newton Country Day School, which leases and manages DCR’s Daly Memorial Rink in Brighton, has added a boat dock and enlarged a shed into a boathouse at the Charles River property without getting approval from the state and without paying additional rent.

After discovering the unauthorized construction last summer, state officials sent Sister Barbara Rogers, the headmistress of Newton Country Day, a letter seeking a meeting and a full explanation of “your apparent failure to comply with the terms of the lease.”

No meeting ever took place, but it’s unclear why. Lauren Feltch, a spokeswoman for the Department of Conservation and Recreation, said Rogers never responded. Her boss, commissioner Jack Murray, declined to explain what happened. Carole Cornelison, the commissioner of the Department of Capital Asset Management, the state’s real estate arm, said in an email that deciding how to respond wasn’t her call. “We are not necessarily in a position to make independent decisions,” she said.

Newton Country Day administrator Elizabeth Gallagher said a meeting between state officials and Rogers was scheduled but then canceled. She said she didn’t know who canceled it or why it wasn’t rescheduled. “It kind of fell off our radar,” she said.

Gallagher said there was a shed in bad condition on the property that was rebuilt, but knew nothing about any boathouse construction. The school’s website, however, refers to the facility as the Daly Memorial Rink and Boathouse.

Under the lease, Newton Country Day makes monthly rental payments to the state — $15,000 or 3 percent of revenues, whichever is greater – for the right to operate the rink from at least September to April. The all-girl school offers public skating, rents the facility out to private groups, and uses the rink for its home hockey games. Newton Country Day is a private Catholic school in Newton with an annual tuition of $42,400.

In the past, the Department of Conservation and Recreation has failed to collect rent on some of its leases of state property, allowed deals to renew in perpetuity at bargain-basement rents, and unknowingly permitted expired leases to remain in effect.

Margaret Van Deusen, deputy director and general counsel at the Charles River Watershed Association, said Newton Country Day should immediately come into compliance with the lease terms. “The licensing process would require public benefits for the public’s loss of commonwealth tidelands, which are held in trust for the citizens of Massachusetts,” she said. “One potential benefit is a public path across the property adjacent to the Charles. And because there is stormwater runoff and erosion from the site into the Charles, these problems should be addressed.”

Gregory Sullivan, a former state inspector general who is now the research director at the Pioneer Institute, said the lease issue shouldn’t be allowed to fall through the cracks. “This is a valuable piece of property owned by the taxpayers subject to state bidding laws and a host of other laws that require fair market value payment for use of the property,” he said.