Selectmen Reject Private Land For New Senior Center

By: Tim Wood

Topics: Aging , council on aging

Chatham's current senior center. FILE PHOTO

CHATHAM – The board of selectmen has rejected pursuing private property for a new senior center.

At an executive session July 2, the board declined two proposals from private property owners that were the result of a request for proposals the town put out for privately owned parcels that might be suitable for a new council on aging facility, according to a statement.

“Out of fiscal prudence, the board decided it will explore several town-owned properties, including the current location,” read the statement. “The board is committed to a public engagement process in selecting a COA location.”

After considering the two proposals, the board found neither to be a better option than available town-owned property.

The two privately owned parcels were a 1.9 acre site at 1610 Main St. owned by Eastward Companies and a 1.3 acre site at 889 Orleans Rd. owned by Susan Trask.

Last year, town staff identified two town-owned parcels on Middle Road as meeting criteria included in a space needs study for a new senior center. A site of at least 1.5 to two acres was suggested by consultants. Although the current 8,600-square-foot senior center on Stony Hill Road was found to be inadequate as presently configured, redevelopment of the site was also included as a possible location for a new facility.

Board Chairman Dean Nicastro said the two parcels submitted as a result of the RFP were the only private lands the board looked at as potential COA sites. Should it make sense to look at acquiring private land adjacent to a town-owned location, the board might entertain such a move, if, for instance more land were needed for parking.

“Parking is an issue” in development of a new COA site, Nicastro said.

But the board reached a consensus that it prefers not to spend public funds to buy land for a new senior center at this time, he said.

“The board felt that there was no need to expend significant funds to acquire private property as an overall site,” Chairman Dean Nicastro said in the statement. Staff has been directed to “test-fit” the town-owned sites for suitability for a new senior center, he said. “We look forward to bringing them for consideration to the public for discussion at a board meeting in the near future after we hear back from the staff.”

In a followup interview, Nicastro said he'd like to hear back from the staff “the sooner the better, but I have a hunch we're not going to hear back until the end of the summer.” Once more information is available, he said he would place it on a board agenda for public discussion.

The space needs study by Bargmann Hendrie and Archetype recommended a new senior center of 14,000 to 16,000 square feet, based on a comprehensive needs assessment by the UMass Center for Social and Demographic Research on Aging Gerontology Institute. That assessment found that the current center is too small to serve the needs of the town's growing senior population.

At last May's annual town meeting, voters approved $100,000 to go a step further and conduct a feasibility study and hire an owners project manager to complete conceptual plans and cost estimates for a new senior center. That work includes a $15,000 site feasibility study. State law requires hiring an owners project manager for municipal construction projects of $1.5 million or more; cost estimates for a new senior center range from $7 to $10 million.