CHATHAM – It doesn't take a close inspection to see the failings of the current senior center on Stony Hill Road. Originally built as a residence, its rooms and offices are small and lack privacy, a steep staircase leads to more constricted spaces on the second floor, it lacks an adequate ventilation system, and the building had to be shored up a few years ago because of structural problems.
A decade ago, talks about upgrading the senior center were put on hold while the town focused on building a new fire station. In the intervening years, the council on aging conducted a needs assessment survey that led directly to the proposal before voters at Saturday's annual town meeting: construction of a new, $8.3 million senior center at 1610 Main St. in West Chatham.
The space needs analysis done as part of the assessment study used as a basis for looking at existing town-owned properties for housing a new senior center. After reviewing four locations, the select board chose land on Middle Road, but the site was rejected by voters at the 2019 annual town meeting as too isolated. Town staff then rescreened town-owned locations and a call was put out for privately owned sites that could accommodate a new senior center.
The 1610 Main St. location was endorsed at the January 2020 special town meeting and $130,000 was appropriated for a feasibility study. Owner William Marsh of Eastward Companies initially asked $750,000 for the lot, but just prior to the town meeting agreed to donate the parcel to the town.
A working group of residents and town officials was set up to develop the final plans with architect Bargmann Hendrie Archetype and owners project manager Rick Pomroy. They honed the floor plan and design into the 10,965-square-foot building up for a vote Saturday.
A group of residents unhappy with the 1610 Main St. location called a special town meeting by petition in March to appropriate funds for a feasibility study of land off Stepping Stones Road, which they saw as a better site for a senior center. The proponents said the residential area next to Monomoy Regional Middle School would be easier for seniors to access than the 1610 Main St. site and the land would allow a single-story building rather than the two-story structure proposed for West Chatham.
While town meeting approved $75,000 for a feasibility study similar to the one conducted for 1610 Main St., the Monomoy Regional School Committee, which has jurisdiction over the land, declined to consider turning it back to the town for use as a senior center. Members of the group persisted, however, and submitted a petition town meeting article as an alternative to the West Chatham location.
Both articles were originally slated to appear on the 2020 annual town meeting warrant, but were deferred in order to limit the length of the session. Both are on the warrant for Saturday's meeting, with the West Chatham senior center measure coming first as Article 15 and the petition for the Stepping Stones location second to last at Article 63.
A new senior center would essentially be the same design at either location. The two-floor building includes offices, a 2,020-square-foot multipurpose room and kitchen on the first floor, with more offices, outreach rooms, a conference room, and 1,000-square-foot and 800-square-foot conference rooms. Outdoor space and decks would allow additional expansion of the structure in the future, should the COA opt to host a senior day facility or other program that could not be accommodated in the proposed space.
Recent redesigns allow internet and virtual access to all of the shared spaces so that outreach programs popular during the pandemic can continue, as well as self-contained ventilation, heating and cooling systems in individual rooms.
Construction costs are projected at $6.6 million, about $604 per square foot. Assuming approval, officials anticipate going out to bid in December and beginning in March 2022. Going out to bid soon is key, they say, because even though construction costs are escalating, the market for big projects remains competitive.
The remaining $1.7 million includes design and engineering fees, furnishings, site work and a 7.5 percent contingency.
Because funds for the building's construction will be borrowed, the town meeting article requires a two-thirds majority to pass. A debt exclusion question on the June 17 annual town election ballot must also be approved, but by a simple majority.
A second town meeting article asks voters to approve a zoning change for the 1610 Main St. parcel, from residential to municipal. The measure also requires a two-thirds majority to pass.
The select board unanimously endorsed the 1610 Main St. senior center, while the finance committee narrowly backed the measure, 3-2-3, with the minority saying they thought the building was too large.
“We've been waiting a very long time for this,” said council on aging board chair Barbara Segall, adding that the town's population of seniors will only grow larger in the coming years. The West Chatham village center is a good setting for the facility, with restaurants, shopping and medical facilities nearby. She rejected charges by opponents that the recent changes to the West Chatham corridor will make it difficult for seniors to access a facility there.
“It's just a vibrant community and I think [the senior center] will bring even more to it,” she said.