Selectmen Narrow Potential Senior Center Locations

By: Alan Pollock

Selectmen have rejected using the existing senior center site on Stony Hill Road for a new council on aging building. FILE PHOTO

Board: Reusing Current Site Too Costly, Complex

CHATHAM — It still remains to be seen where a proposed new senior center will be located, but it won't be at the existing site on Stony Hill Road.

Meeting in special session last Thursday, selectmen showed interest in using either part of the Marconi campus in Chathamport or a private parcel at 1610 Main St. in West Chatham for the new council on aging.

The project architect said that re-using the Stony Hill Road site would require an expensive underground parking lot and would force the town to find temporary locations for senior center programs for up to two years.

Selectmen considered the three options and heard public comment for two-and-a-half hours Thursday evening before instructing the project team to provide more detailed plans for the Marconi and Main Street locations. The board is expected to meet next Monday to choose a final location.

Architect Joel Bargmann began last week’s discussion with an evaluation of the one-acre Stony Hill Road site. To accommodate 68 parking spaces, a number sufficient for daily peak uses, the design would require aparking lot underneath the new two-story senior center building, extending underneath another above-ground parking lot on the northeast side of the lot. The design called for an elevator connecting both floors of the building with the underground lot.

“I’m deeply concerned about below-ground parking,” West Chatham resident Susan Pitt said. “I think there’s the opportunity for accidents. I also think that in an emergency it’s not the best place for emergency vehicles to get down to.”

While the new building is under construction, the town would need to find temporary quarters for senior center programs, and consultant Rick Pomroy said no adequate space was identified in existing town buildings. Renting private space for that purpose would add between $112,000 and $350,000 to the project cost. If the town used temporary modular units for a senior center, as it did during the fire station project, the added costs topped $750,000.

Selectman Dean Nicastro, who previously favored the use of the Stony Hill Road site because of its familiar, convenient location and light vehicle traffic, said he’s reconsidered that stance. The extra expense of the parking garage “would probably sink this project,” which still needs to win approval by two-thirds of town meeting voters.

Early cost projections show that it would cost about $10.9 million to rebuild at the Stony Hill Road site. By comparison, the earlier proposal to build a senior center on Middle Road was $6.6 million, but that location was rejected by voters who thought it was too remote.

Bargmann and Pomroy came up with two potential configurations for a senior center at 1610 Main St. Because the rear of the property slopes sharply down to a pond, it is not ideal for a parking lot, Bargmann said. One design called for a parking garage located underneath a one- or two-story building, providing 67 spaces, at an estimated cost of $11.2 million. Another possibility involves a land swap with the conservation parcel just to the east, allowing the sloped, wooded portions of both properties to remain undeveloped, but using the front, mostly cleared land near Route 28 for the senior center. Doing so would eliminate the need for underground parking, they said.

That proposal drew immediate backlash from members of the public at the meeting, who argued that the Captain George Harding Conservation Area was conveyed to the town in good faith for conservation purposes, and that conveyance should be respected.

“We’re adamantly opposed to this,” said resident Judy Patterson, whose family owned the conservation land for decades. “A lot of people have put a lot of effort into making that nice.”

Gloria Freeman of North Chatham said it was disrespectful to even consider a land swap. “I think it’s really too bad that any such action is possible,” she said.

Selectmen agreed and took that option off the table. But the board remains interested in the possibility of a senior center contained to 1610 Main St., particularly given news that the owner has lowered his selling price from $900,000 to $750,000. Board members asked the consultants to present options that might allow a building there without the need for underground parking.

The third location is the rear of the Marconi campus in Chathamport, which would require the building and parking lot to be located on a hill. The option is attractive because the property is already owned by the town, it is of ample size, and is in a desirable location, the consultant said. A key drawback involves the limited visibility for vehicles exiting on Route 28, where oncoming cars crest a nearby hill at high speed.

The project team offered two configurations for the parcel. One would have the building located close to the existing Marconi “Hotel” building, over what is currently an oval depression in the ground; the other places a parking area closer to the Hotel, with the building backed up into the hillside. Either configuration would have a second driveway that leads to Old Comers Road, either for two-way traffic or as an exit only. A rough cost estimate for this plan was $8.7 million.

Selectman Jeffrey Dykens said he likes the location, particularly if the building is kept closer to the Marconi buildings. “It gives you more of a campus feel,” he said. But Dykens wondered whether the Chathamport location is too remote from downtown Chatham, like Middle Road.

“This property is actually one mile away from the existing senior center,” council on aging board Chairman Barbara Segall said. The site offers exciting possibilities, she added. “We could have events between the Marconi [Center] and the senior center,” she said. “Shared parking, shared population.” The full council on aging board is expected to vote its site preference prior to Monday’s selectmen’s meeting.

The fact that the front portion of the Marconi property is listed on the National Register of Historic Places may pose an additional regulatory hurdle, Principal Projects and Operations Administrator Terry Whalen said. Developing the rear portion of the land would require consultation with the Cape Cod Commission, he noted.

Resident John Hallgren said that, should the Marconi site be chosen, a new senior center should be architecturally compatible with the existing brick buildings.

“It would be too out of place to have a very modern building,” he said.