Chatham Seeks Private Land For New Senior Center

By: Tim Wood

Chatham's current senior center. FILE PHOTO

CHATHAM – The town has put out a solicitation for private land that might serve as a location for a new senior center.

A request for proposals seeking parcels of land for sale suitable for a council on aging facility was issued last week. Bids are due Jan. 12.

The move was made at the request of the board of selectmen. During a presentation of a COA space needs study Nov. 14, staff indicated that only a few town-owned sites were suitable for a new senior facility, both of them off Middle Road. Broadening the search for a site to include privately owned parcels could result in the identification of suitable land, Principal Projects Administrator Terry Whalen said, and selectmen agreed, asking that a general request for proposals be developed to solicit possibilities.

The town has outgrown its current 8,600-square-foot senior center at 193 Stony Hill Rd.; the building also has structural problems, and its three stories make it difficult for some seniors to access. Selectman Jeffrey Dykens called it “totally inadequate” and a “rabbit warren of spaces.” The town also faces a growing senior population, which will require more services and programs in the coming years, according to a comprehensive needs assessment conducted last year for the COA by the UMass Center for Social and Demographic Research on Aging Gerontology Institute.

According to a programmatic study by consultants Bargmann Hendrie and Archetype, Inc. based on the needs assessment, Chatham's senior center should be 14,000 to 16,000 square feet, the larger size necessary to accommodate a senior day care facility, should the town choose to incorporate that function. With parking, the facility would require a two-acre site and cost between $7 and $9 million.

For the purpose of the RFP, selectmen set the minimum buildable area at 1.5 acres, or 65,000 square feet, with the understanding that location may be a factor in accommodating parking and other amenities. Should a site be close to a public parking area, for instance, less space would be needed for parking on a new COA parcel.

The RFP states that a site must be able to accommodate the building, parking and “open area features” based on municipal zoning setbacks. It can comprise a single parcel or two or more parcels.

The current senior center site is too small to accommodate a building of the size recommended by the consultants. Four other town-owned locations with enough land were identified. Land at the airport was rejected because of potential conflicts with the airport operation, while the little league field at the community center was determined not to be suitable because of parking restrictions. Two vacant parcels on Middle Road were seen as suitable. Staff recommended a 96,608-square-foot parcel fronting on Middle Road as opposed to a second parcel farther back from the roadway.

Selectmen have asked that an article be drawn up for the spring annual town meeting seeking funding for a more detailed feasibility study of a new building as well as hiring an owner's project manager.