Rejecting the town-owned Marconi property, selectmen Monday night voted unanimously to pursue the purchase of a private parcel on Main Street in West Chatham as the location for a new senior center.
Selectmen favored the parcel at 1610 Main St., owned by Eastward Companies, to take the place of the current senior center on Stony Hill Road, which council on aging officials say is too small for its existing programs and provides no possibility of future growth as the town's population continues to age.
Building a senior center on the Marconi property in Chathamport would intrude into the National Historic District at the site which honors the historic ship-to-shore wireless station that operated at the location for decades. Another location on the property that was outside the historic district would be too isolated, selectmen said, much like a parcel on Middle Road in West Chatham that voters rejected for a senior center site in May.
Consultants estimated the development cost of an 11,200-square-foot, two-story senior center at the 1610 Main St. site at $8.7 million, including $750,000 to purchase the property. The land would support 58 parking spaces, which architect Joel Bargmann said would be enough to support most of the COA's regular programming, although for larger events overflow parking would be needed. That could be done through an agreement to use the parking lot at the nearby Ocean State Job Lot or another commercial building in the area.
Selectmen preferred the Main Street site because it is in the West Chatham village center, is located along a bus route and would add to the vibrancy of the area.
However, board members warned that it might be a tough sell to voters and the finance committee due to the cost of the property.
“I think town meeting is going to be an uphill battle no matter what we do,” said Selectman Cory Metters.
Town Manager Jill Goldsmith said a special town meeting to purchase the property and appropriate funds to do a detailed feasibility study could be called as soon as early January.