Selectmen Back Senior Center Plan

By: Alan Pollock

Topics: council on aging , Senior issues

Selectmen are now searching for a new parcel of land to host a new senior center, either a one-story version like this, or a two-story design that would require less land.

CHATHAM  In a special meeting last Thursday, selectmen officially threw their support behind a plan to build a new senior center at a town-owned site on Middle Road. 

Following a presentation by architect Joel Bargmann, the board voted unanimously to recommend passage of the town meeting article that would authorize the project, which is estimated to cost between $6.2 and $6.5 million.

Responding to more detailed information from a site survey, and answering concerns raised at a March 2 meeting, Bargmann showed the board a revised plan that positions the building closer to Middle Road and very slightly reduces the size of the structure.

Keeping the building closer to the road allows it to avoid the 100-foot buffer around a wetland in the northwest corner of the lot. With that change, it appears the project will not require review by the conservation commission.

Some Middle Road residents had raised concerns about storm runoff on the site, saying water tends to flow from the road into the property during heavy rains. The project team retained Coastal Engineering to survey the site, and engineer Dave Michniewicz said he saw no evidence of unusual drainage problems.

“There’s no erosion occurring on the property now,” he said. While the 60-vehicle parking lot will require ordinary systems to catch stormwater, the soil is generally sandy and well drained, Michniewicz said. The sloping location will necessitate some drainage work, but “it certainly can be accommodated,” he said.

In response to concern about the size of the proposed 10,200-square-foot structure, Bargmann said the group working on the design considered several alternatives to scale back the size by reducing programming space, but ultimately rejected them. The design was based on the needs assessment produced by UMass Boston, “an excellent document,” Bargmann said. Based on current activity schedules at the existing senior center, “it was essential to have that extra program space,” he said.

“Clearly, Monday through Friday, pretty much every one of these spaces is being used, pretty much all day,” Selectman Jeffrey Dykens added. “I’m comforted by the fact that we’re not overbuilding programming space.”

There were some minor changes to the floor plan that reduced the square footage from 10,200 to 10,150 square feet. Answering concerns raised by the public, the team put the outreach workers’ offices on the front outside wall, giving them natural light and ventilation, and allowing more people to keep watch over the front entryway. The office used by health insurance advisers, which is used less frequently, was moved to an interior space. The kitchen design was streamlined, but remains “perfectly adequate” for cooking classes and access by people who use wheelchairs.

Although the proposed building location was moved closer to the road, there are still at least two places where additions could be connected in the future to make room for an adult day center or additional needs, Bargmann added.

Selectmen Chairman Dean Nicastro said the working group has been meeting diligently “and has had direct involvement from parties that are fiscally conscious, like the chair and vice-chair of the finance committee, and the chair of the summer residents’ committee, which did a financial analysis of this,” he said. Nicastro also praised Bargmann’s expertise in designing senior centers.

“He’s responsive to us. He’s not dictating a project to us,” he said.

Selectmen are expected to receive a firmer cost estimate next week for inclusion on the warrant, but the complete project is expected to between $6.2 and $6.5 million.

“No one likes to spend this kind of money, but we’ve done it before, and we’re going to be doing it again,” Nicastro said. The project will require a Proposition 2½ debt exclusion vote at town meeting, which needs a two-thirds majority to pass. It will also need to pass at the polls at the town election.