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Nat Grid to leave Westboro; Area operations Waltham-bound.

Byline: Bob Kievra

WESTBORO - British utility National Grid will centralize its New England operations at a corporate office park in Waltham, a move that will reduce its employment in Central Massachusetts from 1,500 to 400.

The relocation spells the end of the company's 44-year presence in Westboro, where its predecessor company, New England Electric System, first established an accounting center in 1963 and its corporate headquarters four years later.

National Grid, the second-largest gas and electric utility in the country, said it would vacate its 280,000-square-foot building at 25 Research Drive and a Waltham building at 52 Second Ave. acquired during its recent purchase of KeySpan Corp. The company will move 1,700 employees into a 312,000-square-foot building to be constructed in the Reservoir Woods East office park off Exit 27 on Route 128 in Waltham. National Grid expects to have the move completed by the middle of 2009.

National Grid has 900 employees in Westboro, which until 18 months ago was considered the company's United States corporate headquarters. National Grid has 500 employees at the former KeySpan building in Waltham, and another 600 work at a 160,000-square-foot building at 55 Bearfoot Road in Northboro.

When the transition is complete in 18 months, the Northboro facility, largely used as a call center in recent years, will employ 400 and feature some additional operations, including data processing and dispatch operations. The changes announced yesterday do not affect electricity and gas operation facilities scattered throughout the utility's service territory.

The move comes three months after the company completed its $11.8 billion cash-and-debt takeover of KeySpan Corp., the largest distributor of natural gas in the Northeast, with 800,000 customers in Massachusetts.

In recent weeks, National Grid has been erecting new signs at some former KeySpan locations and bidding goodbye to several prominent executives who have either retired or accepted voluntary severance packages.

Among those who have left are Cheryl A. LaFleur, a former National Grid executive vice president and chief operating officer, and Nancy H. Sala, who was vice president for facility asset management for National Grid.

While Waltham and Westboro are 25 miles apart, the company said not everyone working in Westboro or Northboro can assume their jobs will be shifted to Waltham or remain in Northboro. "Where employees work in the future has a lot to do with the nature of their job," said National Grid spokeswoman Jackie Barry. "They could end up in Northboro or Waltham, but at the same time those functions could be in upstate New York or downstate New York."

National Grid's operations, fed by a string of mergers and takeovers in recent years, now stretch south to Long Island and west to Buffalo, with 7.8 million gas and electric customers in the United States and annual U.S. revenues of $7.3 billion.

National Grid purchased New England Electric System and Eastern Utilities Associates in 2000, followed by Niagara Mohawk in New York in 2002. The KeySpan purchase was completed in August, 18 months after the company purchased the Rhode Island gas distribution business of Southern Union Co.

"It was time to look at our existing New England corporate facilities, and determine if they still meet our needs today, and could support our continued growth," said Thomas B. King, National Grid's executive director of electricity distribution and generation, in a statement. Mr. King joined National Grid in August. He was previously president of San Francisco-based PG&E Corp.

Westboro Town Coordinator Henry L. Danis Jr. said National Grid sent an employee to deliver the news shortly after 4 p.m. yesterday. National Grid, which operated under the Massachusetts Electric name until 2005, has long been involved in Central Massachusetts corporate and philanthropic endeavors, with executives serving on boards of area chambers of commerce, the Worcester Business Development Corp. and the Worcester Art Museum, among others.

The company has changed as a large international conglomerate put its footprint on local operations, officials said.

"Sadly, those things go away," Mr. Danis said. "Right now I don't have a lot of details. I hope they have compassion for the longtime employees who have worked there."

Barbara Clifford, president of the Corridor Nine Chamber of Commerce, said National Grid has been a model corporate citizen.

"For the business community, it's a terrible loss," she said. "But at least we're keeping National Grid in Northboro, and I hope that piece of property in Westboro can be put to good use."

At its new location, National Grid has signed a 20-year lease to initially occupy 270,000 square feet at a three-story office building less than a half-mile from its existing Waltham operations, said Jonathan G. Davis, chief executive officer of Davis Marcus Partners Inc.

The new building will be part of Reservoir Woods East, a 54-acre office and research and development property that features buildings with cafes, outdoor patios and fitness and wellness programs.

He declined to disclose the cost of the new building.

The new National Grid building will achieve energy-efficient certification, officials said.

The building will be constructed on land currently occupied by a 300,000-square-foot Verizon Communications building. About 160,000 square feet of that building is slated for demolition, Mr. Davis said.

The timing: The move comes three months after the company completed its $11.8 billion cash-and-debt takeover of KeySpan Corp.

The delivery: Westboro Town Coordinator Henry L. Danis Jr. said National Grid sent an employee to deliver the news shortly after 4 p.m. yesterday.
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Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Dec 4, 2007
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