Public sees plans for revamped Senior Center, and 'no bricks' draws applause


Feedback meetings held

An additional meeting about the feasibility study of the Senior Center was held Thursday, July 14, from 11:30 to 12:30 p.m. in the center, 27 Maple St. One was held Wednesday, June 29.

The draft plans are available online and in the lobby of the center. Comments and suggestions can be submitted at the center or sent to bohp[@]

UPDATED, July 14: The former Central School -- most people call it the Senior Center -- is headed for a new look, and as many as 30 people, many of them senior citizens, offered questions and had their say about what they'd like to see there.

Some questions were likely beyond the town's capacity to make their dreams come true: Would the parking crunch improve? Could there be spaces elsewhere in town for seniors? Might the rebuilding of Arlington High School provide an opportunity for a community center?

One issue -- brick sidewalks around the center, at Academy and Maple -- did draw an assured response from Jennifer Raitt, director of planning, who vowed "to remove as many bricks as possible." Her promises spurred applause in Lyons Hearing Room at Town Hall on Wednesday, June 15.

Before the audience weighed in, representatives of Sterling Associates, Cambridge architects, laid out the plans for the $4.48 million project as described in option 2 of its feasibility study

Last renovated in 1984

The building, once the town's high school, dates to the 19th century and was last renovated in 1984. Here are some highlights of the study's suggestions, as described by owner Bill Sterling, designer Elaine Bello and engineer Sergio Siani:

-- Heavy entrance doors should be replaced. The vestibule of the main entrance should be extended out with a canopy covering it at the drop-off area, where brick walks ought to be replaced. They have been a bone of cintention with many seniors.

-- A doorway to the parking lot on the Town Hall side, which was closed in 1984, should be reopened to provide access from an expanded kitchen to a patio courtyard. "We believe food is a key part of the operation," Bello said, suggesting the kitchen might be rented to a caterer.

-- Parking needs "further study." The immediate site has space for 70 cars plus a drop–off/loading area with four spaces. At the Masonic Temple, across the street, are 17 spaces.

-- Offices for the town's Health and Human Services Department have been arranged for improved meeting rooms, which are more separated from the offices of the Council on Aging.

-- Sterling's study has tried to address some current drawbacks -- lack of spaces to afford private discussions, furniture that is not soft enough, irregular lighting and "tough" acoustics.

-- The integrity of the structure is "generally very good," but it lacks insulation. An electrical panel installed in 1984 is poor and needs to be replaced. A search for environmental issues turned up a few spots of asbestos.

The study was commissioned to determine the feasibility of using the existing building’s ground and first floors for the Senior Center and town offices, as a town news release said, for years to come.

Questions from public

Some of the questions from those in the audience were pointed. Here is a summary:

A number asked about parking, saying that because of limited spaces, some seniors give up attending Arlington programs and go to other towns.

Raitt said parking would be revamped to the extent that it can be within strictures of the site. The area affected, she said, includes the lot next door at 23 Maple St., also a town property.

Also to be redone is the circular driveway and walkway on the Maple Street side of the building. She added her promise about removing bricks.

As to parking issues, could Senior Center space be found elsewhere?

Town Manager Adam Chapdelaine said, "We will have to ask whether an alternative site is needed."

As to seniors going elsewhere programs because of parking, Susan Carp, director of the Council on Aging, said she would find out through an informal survey.

As to whether a community center might be part of an AHS rebuild, that would depend on what is permitted and the rules of the state School Building Authority, which controls the process and funds involved.

As the schematic in the front of the room was relatively small, and escaped the aging eyesight of some, one asked to "visually walk us through the plan."

The three upfront tried their best. "The entry should give the impression of a hotel," Bello said, noting that deliveries from Food Link, a food-recovery program serving the center, among other places, would be moved around the corner.

One woman asked a number of times about retaining the drop-in room, calling it the most important feature in the Senior Center.

Bello assured her each time: "We have kept it and doubled the space."

How do you address lighting for elders?

Siani agreed, and said the study addresses that.

How will space be used differently?

Bello offered a specific example: "We find computer rooms no longer needed when you can carry small laptops."

What about the space itself?

Bello made a key admission: The plan uses the existing building footprint while senior population grows. [Arlington's current number is estimated to be about 10,000.]

Bob Radochia said he understands that the number of seniors here would double in next 14 years, and he asked how the Arlington center serves.

Carp said more than 1,000 were served.

Malcom Hamilton, president of the Senior Association, said he thought members would not be happy in the pool table is removed.

"The pool table will stay," Sterling said.

Will the new facilities allow for better audiovisuals?

It will include a screen that descends down in main room, instead of one balanced on an easel, as at present.

Will the current level of physical activity be maintained?

The audience was assured the space would be retained and "be very flexible."

How would programs for seniors take place during construction?

Christine Bongiorno, director of human services, and Carp indicated their programs might have to be in one room during that time. "You have to be creative," Carp said.

Could Community Preservation Act funds be used for the Senior Center project?

Chapdelaine said that historic, exterior work could be eligible.

"We will pursue as many grants as possible," Raitt said. "We are very committed to this."

Next steps

Chapdelaine outlined the next steps: Feedback from this meeting would go to the feasibility study committee for consideration. After that, focus groups are planned.

The capital plan has $200,000 for architectural design set aside for fiscal 2018 (starting July 1, 2017). After that, there is $2 million for construction for fiscal 2019.

The issues of space on the third and fourth floors is a separate matter, unaffected by the feasibility study the Arlington Center for the Arts and the Mystic River Watershed Association have responded with separate pleas for that space. The ACA must vacate its space at the former Gibbs School on Foster Street by June 30, 2017, because the schools are taking back the space for classrooms.

Work can proceed after the feasibility study committee incorporates feedback from residents into the plan. It is expected to take six months to deliver construction and budget documents. After that, officials would allow eight to 12 months for construction.

In an email Friday, June 17, Raitt wrote plans show a cost estimate for the project of $5.479 million, but officials do not plan to include additional work on the upper floors, which will reduce the cost by $1 million.

Apart from the town's capital plan, planning and other partners in town will leverage other funding resources to cover the rest.

Central School report, January 2016

Option 2, Sterling Associates (click on Portfolio and scroll to Arlington Senior Center)

This news summary was published Monday, June 20, 2016, and updated July 14.

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