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The Group Travel Leader Going on Faith Select Traveler

Time well spent at Warren County Conference Center, Mass.

Photo courtesy Warren Conference Center

In tough economic times, it’s hard to invest in the future. But maybe there’s no time like the present.

That’s the take at the Warren Conference Center and Inn in Ashland, Mass., 25 miles west of Boston, where a wise use of time and team building take a front seat.

On a 220-acre tract of lakeside farmland, the center has longtime ties to timekeeping. The melange of buildings that is now a conference complex was once owned by Henry Ellis Warren, who invented the electric clock. He kept his purebred cattle there; later, his widow gave the land to Northeastern University and to a camp for disabled and underprivileged children.

By 1999, the original buildings had been refurbished and a modern chalet-style lodge and comfortable 49-room inn were added to the mix to create the Warren Conference Center and Inn. It’s now a site for corporate meetings, social events and team building for the university but also for the public.

One of three conference centers owned by Northeastern University, the Warren Center is managed by FLIK International.

Converted farmhouse adds rural flavor

The conference center’s 11 meeting rooms are in three buildings, including the 1860 farmhouse that was Warren’s home. In a modern addition to the home are two meeting rooms, one 1,000 square feet, the other 1,500. The house also has two eight-person boardrooms.

Behind the white clapboard home is a cluster of red barns and other farm buildings, now used for equipment.

The decidedly rural flavor is a little misleading, as the center is completely up to date in terms of technology and other meeting needs. It has been a member of the International Association of Conference Centers since 1993.

By Michael Heath

“The area is charming, serene and unique,” said Diane Merrill, who, as executive assistant to the corporate comptroller, has organized many meetings there for EMC Corp., a global information management and storage firm headquartered nearby.

“It’s tucked away, offering a very different experience from meeting in a hotel. The creative staff bends over backwards, and the food is phenomenal,” she said.

Meals served at the center earn stellar reviews. “OMG, the food!,” enthused a student in an online comment after attending a leadership school there. “Crab-stuffed sole, lamb shanks, lasagna and desserts galore.  And the service is ridiculously impeccable.”

Chef Charlie Jacobs is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America (CIA). He and his staff are as comfortable grilling burgers and dogs for 320 students under a tent as they are preparing prosciutto-topped chicken in marsala sauce and creme brulee for a corporate gathering.

“We use a lot of local produce from nearby farms,” said Nickie Esposito, who was promoted to director of sales and marketing in November. “We also strive for a clean, contemporary look with faux leather, stainless utensils and white plates.”

“We were early into sustainable agriculture and were one of the first to serve hormone-free milk,” said general manager Mark Roche, also a CIA graduate.

Roche and his staff rely on radios and golf carts as they hustle from place to place supporting meetings and events in the Warren House, the Hayden Lodge and the inn.

Everyone gathers at the lodge
Hayden Lodge is the social center, where meeting groups can gather for buffet meals in a dining room that seats 250. The lodge also has a private dining room for 60 and a 1,700-square-foot meeting room on its ground floor.

In addition to guest rooms, the inn houses a new, small fitness center, a business center and an attractive, rustic lobby where free coffee and other beverages encourage meeting-goers to gather and socialize. A 1,500-square-foot meeting room in the inn has a working fireplace and windows for natural light.

The meeting space can accommodate up to 150; larger groups can house their guests five miles away in Milford, where there are Radisson, Doubletree and Marriott hotels.
Although cozy in winter, the center’s beautiful grounds make it especially appealing in fair weather months of the year.

From May through October, the outdoors is easily worked into every meeting through the use of the center’s decks, patios, lawns and tents. Using all of its outdoor spaces, it can handle events as large as 2,000 people.

In addition to lawns, there are four tennis courts, soccer and softball fields, a volleyball court, fire pits, bocce, horseshoes and Adirondack chairs.

The lake has a small beach and some canoes; there’s also a 3-1/2-mile path around it. Woven into the woods is a high-ropes course where groups can negotiate a giant spider web or fly with the squirrels.

That’s not for everyone, said Roy Charette, president of Training Path, the firm that partners with the center for team-building and professional development programs.

“We have more than 120 activities we can use with organizations, depending on what they need,” he said. They range from workshops to lectures to problem-solving games. Charette said his firm has added new ones to help groups deal with the current economic climate.

“For the last year and a half, people have been nervous about the downturn,” Charette said. “Companies are facing discontent. People are anxious. Those who retain their jobs feel fortunate but guilty. It’s a perfect time to gather together and look toward the future.”

One reason corporations like to meet here, said general manager Roche, is that it’s quiet.

“BlackBerrys sometimes work here … but not always.”

September is the busiest month, he said, but we also do well in January. “Most of our meetings are day meetings from the metro area.”

If it gets too quiet, it’s only 10 miles to New England’s largest mall, Natick Collection, with 200 retail stores and restaurants.

Joggers can pay homage to elite runners by visiting the green in the nearby town of Hopkinton where, each April, 25,000 of them gather to begin the 26-mile Boston Marathon.

And, of course, there are sporting events. The Red Sox, the Celtics and the Bruins rule in Boston. Gillette Stadium, 30 miles away in Foxborough and home to the New England Patriots, also offers meeting and event venues. For small gatherings, there’s a fireside living room; larger groups or tradeshows can book the whole place.

If you’re looking for a quiet, accommodating place to get some work done with your team, the Warren Conference Center may be just what you need. There’s not a second to lose.