CHATHAM – 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 ages.
However, board members warned that the Main Street property might be a tough sell to voters and the finance committee due to the $750,000 cost of the property.
“I think town meeting is going to be an uphill battle no matter what we do,” said Selectman Cory Metters.
Selectmen may call a special town meeting to put the land purchase in front of voters, as well as seeking funds for a detailed feasibility study. Town Manager Jill Goldsmith said the earliest a special meeting could be held would be early January.
Monday's decision culminates a process that began more than three years ago with a council on aging needs assessment and space needs analysis. Officials initially focused on town-owned sites, and a year ago selectmen chose open space on Middle Road, but a $6.6 million article to build a new senior center there failed to get the necessary two-thirds vote at the May annual town meeting.
Selectmen then broadened the scope of their site search to include privately owned parcels, and also looked at other town-owned land, including the Marconi property. After rejecting reusing the existing senior center site, the board focused on the 1610 Main St. parcel and the Marconi campus.
Three options were developed for the Marconi property; two, however, intruded into the National Historic District at the site which honors the historic ship-to-shore wireless station that operated at the location for decades. A third location on the property that was outside the historic district, farther back from the road on a plateau in what is now a wooded area, would be too isolated, selectmen said. That was a major criticism of the Middle Road property and contributed largely to its defeat.
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 the purchase price of the property. It was the most expensive of the options presented to officials; the least expensive, the third option on the Marconi property, was $1.4 lower. The figures are based on an escalation factor that assumes construction in January 2021, said Owner's Project Manager Richard Pomroy.
A major factor in looking at the sites was their ability to accommodate adequate parking. The Stony Hill Road location does not have enough parking to accommodate the COA's current needs, said Director Mandy Speakman. A new, larger facility will likely have a higher parking demand; Speakman said many of the existing programs have waiting lists because the current building will not accommodate more participants. After reviewing the parking demands, traffic engineers from Pare Corp. determined the new senior center will need between 55 and 60 spaces on a daily basis. For large events and public meetings, that number jumps to between 85 and 95, said Pomroy.
The Main Street parcel could support 58 parking spaces, which architect Joel Bargmann said would be enough to accommodate most of the COA's regular programming. For overflow parking, he suggested the town could pursue an agreement to use the parking lot at the nearby Ocean State Job Lot or another commercial building in the West Chatham center.
The design presented to selectmen Monday places the building close to the street, with parking in the rear. From the road it appears to be a single story. The land slopes to the rear, however, where the parking and main entrance would be located, Bargmann said. Offices and other spaces that don't require natural light would be located on the lower story, with function and program rooms on the street-level floor. A substantial retaining wall would be needed at the back of the property at a cost of $50,000 to $100,000.
Town sewer is available at the site, which is also along the Cape Cod Transit Authority bus route. In stating their preference for the location, selectmen noted that it is in the heart of the West Chatham village center and would add to the vibrancy of the area, which is undergoing a makeover with the West Chatham Roadway Project. Pomroy noted that use of the Main Street parcel would require a town meeting vote to change the zoning on the parcel to municipal as well as review by the historic business district commission, planning board and conservation commission, due to the proximity of a pond at the rear of the property.
Selectman Jeffrey Dykens said half of the higher cost of the Main Street site is the price of the land. Eastward Companies had originally asked $900,000 for the 25,310-square-foot parcel, but later agreed to the lower figure. The company bought the land in 2016 for $437,500. Goldsmith said an appraisal of the land commissioned by the town in April 2018 put the value at $740,000. Its current assessed value is $235,100.
The COA is the only major town department that hasn't benefited from an infrastructure project in the past decade or so, and its officers and supporters encouraged the selectmen to make a choice.
“We can't keep delaying,” said COA board chair Barbara Segall. “It's going to cost more every year.”
Former Selectman David Whitcomb said the West Chatham site will be “a great place to have as an anchor” for the West Chatham village center. The town has “invested wisely” in its building and infrastructure projects, “and I believe this is going to be another wise investment.”
Metters rejected the Marconi location as “Middle Road all over again,” and said he expects the board to be criticized for choosing the Main Street site, a sentiment echoed by other selectmen. “But I'm ready to move on it,” Metters said. “The longer we wait, we get less for more.”
Selectman Dean Nicastro said the Friends of the Council On Aging had pledged to contribute $250,000 toward the project when Middle Road was the site, and he hoped the group would do the same for the new location.
“I think it would be very helpful at town meeting and to the finance committee, which is going to make a recommendation on this,” he said.
COA Friends President Judy Hanlon said the group has not discussed that and she could make no commitment.
Nicastro noted that the Main Street site could accommodate an adult day care program in the future.
“I do think this is going to be a difficult task at town meeting and in front of the finance committee,” he said. “But I think this board has to do something, and I think we ought to do it tonight.”
“I honestly think that whatever we do, we're never going to please everyone in this town about where a COA's going to be,” said Chair Shareen Davis. But she called on the board and others to “work together to make this successful.”