Planning Advances For New Senior Center

By: Alan Pollock

Topics: Aging , Infrastructure , council on aging , Senior issues

The Chatham Senior Center is being eyed for replacement because of its inadequate program spaces and its three-level design. FILE PHOTO

CHATHAM — Though it's too early to know what it might look like, or even where it would be located, a new senior center is in its earliest design stages.

Officials have hired an architectural firm to calculate how much space would be needed in a new council on aging building, and the firm will also present some conceptual floor plans to generate discussion.

It remains to be seen whether the existing site on Stony Hill Road or some other town-owned land could be used for the project, which could go to town meeting for an appropriation for a feasibility study and an owner's project manager as soon as next spring. 

The pre-design work is being done by the Boston-based firm of Bargmann, Hendrie and Archetype, Inc., under a $21,375 contract funded from the town manager's consulting budget.

“This architect, I'm really excited to work with,” council on aging director Mandi Speakman said. The firm has designed more than 30 senior centers, including the one in Falmouth, along with a number of community centers. “This has become their area of expertise.”

A community needs assessment conducted by the Friends of the Council on Aging identified a number of ways in which the town's aging population will require greater support in the future, and one of those needs was a better senior center. The existing facility on Stony Hill Road has inadequate program space, limited privacy for seniors receiving one-on-one support, and uses rooms on all three levels of the building. Some, including members of the board of selectmen, have observed that the configuration may pose a safety risk, should seniors need to evacuate the building quickly.

Last November, selectmen hosted a discussion about potential sites for a new senior center.

“We have sort of taken one step back,” Speakman said. The contractor will help identify how many rooms and parking spaces would be required in a facility designed to meet the town's needs. Then, armed with the space assessment and some sample block drawings of senior centers, “then we can get back to what sites are owned by the town that might fit those needs,” or whether other solutions might be needed.

Principal Projects Administrator Terry Whalen presented the council on aging board with a timeline for the planning process, starting with the space needs and site concept evaluations this summer and early fall, which could lead to a site selection sometime over the winter. At the spring 2018 annual town meeting, the project will likely seek funds to hire an owner's project manager and to study the feasibility of moving ahead. That will generate conceptual floor plans and a cost estimate, which would yield a concept to be reviewed by the board of selectmen next fall or early winter.

If the board embraces the project, design and construction funds would be sought in the 2019 annual town meeting, with the job going out to bid in the winter. By this timeline, a new senior center could be ready for use in the spring or summer of 2021. Whalen admitted that the schedule is aggressive, but he said the goal is to generate ideas and keep the decision-making progress going.

At this stage, nothing precludes the rehabilitation of the existing building.

“Clearly, you always have to look at the 'do nothing' scenario,” he said. Once officials determine the size requirements of a senior center, “then we'll evaluate the ability or inability of fitting it on the existing site,” Whalen said.

Last year, officials considered the use of 11 other town properties for a senior center. Several sites were deemed too small, including 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 other sites included 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. The latter site had a number of advantages, including its proximity to downtown.

“That will definitely be an alternative we'll be reporting back on,” Whalen said.

Should none of those sites be practical, the town would consider purchasing private land for the purpose, officials said.

Speakman said she's encouraged by the timeline.

“There seems to be great support from the selectmen to date, and from the community, all the way from our needs assessment to our strategic planning, and now, talking about facility ideas,” she said. “It's just really exciting.”