WOBURN - The City Council earlier this week sanctioned a request from Beth Israel Lahey Health (BILH) systems to continue operations for another year at a drive-through COVID-19 testing site off of Presidential Way.

During their latest meeting in City Hall, the aldermen unanimously agreed to extend BILH’s existing special permit by modifying the expiration date for the testing clinic within a largely unused parking lot by the Wilmington line.

The special permit, required for the drive-through component of the clinic, is now good through early Dec. of 2022.

According to local lawyer Joseph Tarby, representing the hospital group, as has been the case for the past year, those traveling to and from the site to see if they have contracted the virus will be existing BILH patients.

“This is not open to the public. You have to have orders from a doctor in the BILH system to be tested here,” explained the Rubin and Rudman attorney, who last year differentiated the Presidential Way proposal from the state’s high-traffic, high-volume testing sites that are open to the general public.

“As you know, the council last year granted a special permit to allow for this use at 8 Presidential Way. We’re looking to extend this use for up to a year,” he added. “When may not need it for that long, but with everything going on with COVID now, we want the ability to have patients within the Lahey Health system to be tested at this facility.”

The BILH testing clinic is situated on a 14-acre parcel that has long been used for the hospital group’s information technology department. Lahey Hospital and Medical Center has leased space within a two-story office building on the property since 2017, when a longtime tenant Porter and Chester Institute shuttered its Woburn campus.

After Lahey Hospital leaders subsequently announced its merger with Beth Israel in 2018, the medical services provider obtained permission from the council to take over the entire building. A year later, BILH announced plans to expand its IT operations by constructing a four-story addition onto that 104,000 square foot building.

Because the Presidential Way site is situated right off of I-93 and the low-density IT use of the office building leaves much of an expansive parking lot vacant, BILH views the office park as the perfect site for a drive-through COVID-19 testing facility.

To enable medical workers to conduct testing during all weather conditions, a temporary 3,000 square foot structure has been erected in the parking area, where a pair of trailers for storage and staff breaks have also been staged. The clinic is opened weekdays between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. and on weekends between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.

The council okayed the emergency testing site permit just as a second surge in new COVID-19 cases was about to wash over the entire state in the winter of 2021.

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