We have to admit that we're not crazy about the Chatham Board of Selectmen's choice of land at 1610 Main St. as the site for a new senior center. But we also admit that it was the best option on a table strewn with poor choices.
It's been almost five years since the Gerontology Institute at the John W. McCormack Graduate School of Police and Global Studies at the University of Massachusetts Boston conducted a needs assessment for the COA and found that not only is the current building on Stony Hill Road ill suited as a senior center, but it is wholly inadequate for the increase in use anticipated as the town's population continues to age. The new space that architects have projected based on the assessment is not significantly larger than the existing building—11,200 square feet vs. about 8,600 square feet—but its purposeful layout, as opposed to the present retrofitted facility, will be much more suitable for the programs the COA operates, many of which now have waiting lists because of the inadequacies of Stony Hill Road.
Ideally, a senior center should have been included in the community center when it was developed more than a decade ago, but that opportunity has passed and the site is no longer appropriate for both uses. After a lengthy review of town-owned property, a proposal to put a $6.6 million senior center on Middle Road failed to get the necessary two-thirds vote at May's annual town meeting. Going back to the drawing board, town staff once again made a sweep of town property and made another plea for potential privately owned sites. Parking and building requirements ruled out many right away, and selectmen wisely rejected the Stony Hill Road site, which would require an expensive underground garage to accommodate parking, one of the major considerations in reviewing the locations. In the end it came down to the town-owned Marconi property in Chathamport and the 1610 Main St. parcel, owned by Eastward Companies. Three different configurations were proposed for the Marconi land, but in the end selectmen did not want to impinge on the historic district there, and found a site farther back on the property, like the Middle Road land, too remote.
That left the Main Street property, which can accommodate the senior center and adequate parking, although overflow for large events will require an agreement with other landowners to use nearby parking, which could be problematic. Seniors will benefit from being in the West Chatham village center, as will nearby shops and restaurants, and access will certainly be no problem.
The $750,000 cost of the property, which pushes the total estimated cost of the project to nearly $8.7 million, is likely to be an issue, as several selectmen pointed out. Voters will get the final say, and while selectmen have suggested calling a special town meeting, perhaps in January, a decision such as this should be made at an annual meeting, when more residents are likely to be in town, even if the delay could escalate the cost. That will give everyone a chance to make a choice, even if the option isn't ideal.