Taken from The Southbridge Evening News “Special DOD Supplement” dated Friday, March 31, 2000:



Richard McGrath, chairman of the Tri-Community Area Chamber of Commerce’s Economic Development Committee, and Franklin Realty Advisors, property manager of the American Optical campus, discover an opportunity for Southbridge to apply for the siting at the former American Optical Co. complex of a U.S. Department of Defense Finance and Accounting Service facility, as part of the nationwide consolidation of DOD financial operations.

Dec. 7:Edward Galonek, from the Chamber, organizes and conducts a community-wide trade-show-style community information program, at the AO site, which serves as the centerpiece of a visit by the site evaluation team from the Federal Base Realignment and Closure Commission.



January-February:Southbridge is chosen by the DOD as one of 20 finalists nationwide to host 4,000-7,000 DFAS jobs, but the decision is not publicly announced.

March 12:U.S. Defense Secretary Les Aspin orders that the consolidation process be put under indefinite review.

March 16:Southbridge mobilizes for reconsideration of the decision to review.The Chamber begins “DOD - A Full Court Press” letter writing campaign to federal officials.U.S. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., Congressman Richard Neal, D-Springfield, and Southbridge Town Manager Florence Chandler write individually to federal officials, asking for reconsideration.

March 26:The Chamber, having prompted about 5,000 letters to government officials, announces a second letter writing campaign.

June 5:Kerry tours the AO site, meets with local and state officials and townspeople.He promises “a blood-on-the-floor” fight with Aspin.

June 7:Aspin announces new siting process, with a Site Selection Task Force appointed to make recommendations.His spokesperson points out that communities on the list of 20 semi-finalists, including Southbridge, have an “advantage.”U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., declaring he will “go to the mat” for Southbridge, indicates that the new siting process resulted from President Clinton’s intercession with Aspin.Neal vows to press even more vigorously.The Chamber announces “Operation Home Run!”, a stepped-up effort to focus the political process on the Southbridge proposal’s merits.Late in the day Secretary Aspin discloses to the Commission that, in fact, Southbridge did win 4,000 DFAS jobs in the original competition.

June 9:Gov. Bill Weld declares that in this new selection round he and the Commonwealth are ‘backing Southbridge to the hilt.’

June 19:Chamber President Mark Murphy, Chandler and Chamber Legislative Liaison Michael Coughlin meet privately with President Clinton, following his appearance at Northeastern University’s commencement exercises.The present a summary of the Southbridge proposal’s strengths.The President tells them, “I am aware of Southbridge,” and promises a quick review process.The meeting is arranged by Kennedy.Earlier in the day, in Boston, Kennedy and Kerry press Southbridge’s case to Clinton during a trip from Logan Airport in the presidential limousine.Kennedy, saying that he was very direct in his representations, adds that he was pleased to find the president receptive.Kennedy specially asks the president to ensure both a quick decision-making process and that Southbridge will be named a DFAS site.Also, Neal speaks with the president, to impress upon him the merits of the community’s proposal and the economic stimulation it will produce.

June 22:Murphy announces a new letter-writing campaign, designed to advance Southbridge’s position during the upcoming Pentagon review of sites.

July 1:The Base Closure and Realignment Commission issues to the president and Congress its report of recommendations.It says, in part, “although the Secretary of Defense informed this Commission on June 7, 1993, that he has decided to implement a new site selection process, we urge the secretary to recognize the significant effort and individual merits of the communities which were chosen under the earlier site selection process.”Murphy observes that the report language applies to Southbridge and, in Massachusetts, only Southbridge.

July 15:The Chamber announces “Operation Home Run!”It includes a drive for 10,000 petition signatures which, with similar petitions originating in northeastern Connecticut and nearby Hampden County, will be delivered to the Pentagon; an outreach program for letters and petitions from the heads of government in communities from Northampton to Westboro to Providence, R.I., to Plainfield, Conn.; and a comparable network of support from local chambers of commerce in central New England.

July 19:Massachusetts Senate President William Bulger and House Speaker Charles Flaherty sign the Chamber’s petition.Their action, which Murphy said demonstrates Statehouse and statewide support for Southbridge as the Commonwealth’s only entry in the DFAS siting process, reflects a suggestion made by state Sen. Louis Bertonazzi, D-Milford.

July 29:Lt. Gov. Paul Cellucci is the featured speaker at a Chamber-sponsored reception in Southbridge, highlighting the area’s strengths in fiber optics, manufacturing and tourism.He declares to 150 business and government leaders, “I can assure you that Governor Weld and I have no doubt that the Southbridge proposal is one of the best nationwide, and we will do whatever we can to ensure that it succeeds.Southbridge truly represents Massachusetts’, even New England’s, best chance to bring home thousands of new jobs.And we stand foursquare behind this proposal.”Cellucci adds his signature to the Operation Home Run! petition, as petition project chairman Galonek announces that the goal of 10,000 signatures has been achieved.

Aug. 10:In a report on the Southbridge economy, PBS’s MacNeil-Lehrer Report covers the expected impact of a DFAS facility, noting that Southbridge has the state’s highest unemployment rate.It quotes Southbridge Evening News Publisher Loren Ghiglione as seeing “no sharp uptake” following the end of the recession, and quotes Chandler on the community’s positive spirit in pursuing a DFAS facility.

Murphy announces a total of 19,133 petition signatures have been collected from central New England in support of the Southbridge-based proposal to strengthen the region’s economy.The petitions are delivered to Pentagon officials, including Brig. Gen. Gary Hahn, from the Base Closure Commission, with whom the Chamber delegation meets for 70 minutes.

Oct. 13:The Chamber conducts a news conference, to announce “Operation Touchdown!,” which features “Postcards to the President.”Some 20,000 four-color postcards go into distribution.Pre-addressed to President Clinton, the postcards show an aerial view of Southbridge, with the AO site at the center.

Nov. 10:Members of Congress from Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut join the Chamber-led Postcards to the President project, as they sign their own messages urging President Clinton to award Southbridge a DFAS facility.

Dec. 7 & 8: In a trip to Washington, D.C., sponsored by the Chamber and organized by Neal, about 50 Tri-Community officials in fiber optics, tourism, banking and the defense jobs effort meet with Clinton Administration and congressional leaders.The sessions are broadcast live on C-SPAN.A member of the delegation, Michael Hogan, executive direction of the Massachusetts Office of Economic Development, in remarks offered during the meetings, pledges the Commonwealth’s ongoing substantial monetary support for the Southbridge-based Center for Advanced Fiberoptic Applications, tourism promotion and the Tri-Community-based infrastructure needs for roads, sewers and other community concerns.

Dec.:The Federal Site Selection Task Force begins its review.



Jan., Feb. & March: The Task Force reviews continues.

April 1:The Task Force’s analysis is forwarded to the Secretary of Defense for review.

April 4:Murphy, vowing a thorough final effort now that the site selection process has reached the doorstep of the decision-maker, declares, “we are leaving nothing to chance.”He outlines a series of steps, including White House and Defense Department meetings which he said are designed “to press the merits of our proposal at this crucial moment.”

April 10:Presidential Senior Policy Advisor George Stephanopoulos, on a visit to Worcester, confers with James McGovern, top aide to Congressman J. Joseph Moakley, D-Boston, Murphy, Coughlin and Chandler, as Chandler presents Stephanopoulos with petitions and letters from Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island communities in the DFAS employment area.

April 12:Bulger, Flaherty, Bertonazzi and state Rep. David Peters, R-Charlton, co-sponsor legislation extending by one year from July 1, 1994, a measure assuring a state bond issue of up to $100 million to pay for renovations at the AO site.The legislation is expected to pass both houses unanimously and be signed promptly by Gov. William Weld.

May 3:U.S. Defense Secretary William Perry names Southbridge as the home of the DOD’s permanent center for financial management, education and training.In addition to providing permanent jobs, the center will serve as the site for a number of temporarily-assigned trainees.Perry said the Southbridge center will be instrumental in the modernization and improvement of DFA educational and performance levels.



Throughout the year, the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and the Massachusetts State Colleges submit successful bids to provide faculty and curriculum for the training center.Blueprints are drawn and construction of offices for permanent staff and for classrooms and related teaching facilities begins.Preliminary negotiations on the lease commence between Franklin Realty, for the American Optical Co., and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, as the real estate negotiator for the Defense Department.

Oct. 24: Kennedy, Kerry, Neal, Peters and Chandler conduct a ribbon-cutting ceremony.



November: The first class of DOD students arrives.They will live and be trained at the Sturbridge Host Hotel and Conference Center until the new hotel and secure government offices are built in Southbridge.Typically each class lasts two weeks.



July 3: The Deputy Secretary of Defense directs the Corps of Engineers to enter into a lease with AO.

Aug. 29: The Undersecretary of Defense indicates a desire to begin financial training operations in Southbridge as soon as possible.



Jan.: Negotiations between the Corps of Engineers and Franklin, which have been stalled, are restarted.They continue throughout the year.

Fall.: It’s decided that most of the former Main Plant will be demolished, with a 204-room hotel, conference center and secure DOD offices will be built in its place, at a total cost of $80 million.This replaces the original plan, which called for the remodeling of the old building.It’s expected there will be about 150 DOD jobs and about 300 jobs at the hotel.


Feb.: The Southbridge Planning Board grants a special permit for the project.

April: The Southbridge Zoning Board of Appeals grants a variance for the project.

Sept.: The Southbridge Conservation Commission gives its approval for the project.After the plans are revised, the Planning Board grants a change in the special permit.



Jan.: After a second revision, the Planning Board grants another change in the special permit.

Feb. 7: The Corps of Engineers publishes a legal notice that the DOD facility will be built in a flood plain.This begins a 15-day public comment period, and indicates that lease negotiations are coming to a close.

Feb. 28: The U.S. Congress is notified that the government is about to sign the lease.No significant questions are raised.

March 8: The U.S. General Services Administration gives its permission to Secretary of the Army Louis Caldera to sign the lease.It’s to run for 20 years, with the government paying about $9.6 million annually.


Main Plant Demolition Progress Page