New Senior Center Needed, But Where?

By: Alan Pollock

Topics: Aging , council on aging

The former water department office on Stage Harbor Road is an option for a new senior center, but it might require a large addition in order to have adequate space. FILE PHOTO


Selectmen Mull Multiple Options To House COA

CHATHAM Selectmen agree that the council on aging building on Stony Hill Road is a bad fit for seniors, with ill-suited program spaces located on three floors. But when it comes to where a new senior center should be built, or what size it should be, board members say they need more information.

Principal Projects Administrator Terry Whalen analyzed several options for expanding or rebuilding the facility on its current site, building on a new site, or combining the senior center with other town facilities. He proposed an ambitious time frame that would use a consultant to begin refining one or more preferred alternatives as soon as next July.

When considering options to expand the senior center on its current site, Whalen referred to a 2011 report commissioned by selectmen when they were considering the need to add space for an adult day program. The architect proposed an addition to the left, or southwest, side of the building that would increase program space by about 3,200 square feet. Including proposed parking lot improvements, the project was estimated at the time to cost between $1.3 and $1.4 million.

A “scrape and replace” option would call for the existing building to be razed and replaced with a two-level building for easier access for seniors with mobility problems. Unlike the current building, a new senior center would be “designed specifically for council on aging uses and needs,” Whalen said.

The analysis also considered new construction on 11 other town properties. The sites identified included four that were eliminated early for having insufficient space: the former NStar property on Route 28 in South Chatham, the former Grange property on Depot Road, and shared space at the elementary school or the town offices downtown.

The seven remaining sites considered were three tracts of land on Middle Road near the wastewater plant, the land behind the community center gym, a wooded area near the airport hangars on George Ryder Road, a portion of the Marconi campus in Chathamport, and the former water department office at 127 Old Harbor Rd.

Each site has pluses and minuses, Whalen noted. Some have adequate space but are located in a remote part of town, and others are centrally located but might not be large enough for the council on aging's needs. Several have topographical challenges, including the Marconi site, a bowl-shaped parcel known as the lagoon.

Co-locating the senior center with the community center would provide an opportunity for inter-generational programming, but it would also put a strain on parking and recreation program space. It might be necessary to relocate the little league field to make the plan work, Selectman Amanda Love noted.

Another option, said Whalen, is purchasing private property for a new senior center.

Focusing on the Old Harbor Road property, Whalen said staff did very preliminary calculations that showed that a sizable addition would need to be built to link the historic Ellis house with the old barn in order to provide the requisite 9,000 square feet of program space. Selectman Seth Taylor challenged that number.

“That's an enormous amount of floor space,” he said. The town has a history of overbuilding its facilities, he said. Taylor asked for a more detailed explanation of the senior center's anticipated space needs. Whalen said his proposal would bring a consultant on board to do a space needs assessment focused on one or more preferred locations.

Board Chairman Jeffrey Dykens agreed with Taylor, saying a site should be identified before town meeting voters are asked to hire an owners' project manager.

“I don't think we go to town meeting without a site,” he said.

Selectman Dean Nicastro said the current building is extremely inadequate.

“It poses safety issues. It's on three levels. That's a real problem for me,” he said. Joe Gordon, the Barnstable County Sheriff's Office liaison to the council on aging, agreed.

“When I walk into your facility, I see a major risk,” he said. “It really is an unsafe facility.”

Selectmen agreed that the proposed project timeline is too ambitious, and that the board needs more detailed information to consider the options, include buying private property for a new senior center.