Reading, MA — Residents were given the opportunity at two different sessions on April 6 to express their opinions and ideas regarding a new senior center. The first session was in the afternoon at the Pleasant Street Center. The evening session was at the Reading Public Library. The Reading Center for Active Learning Committee (ReCALC) enlisted the services of the UMass Boston Gerontology Institute to perform community outreach and aid the committee in gathering information.
Dr. Caitlyn Coyle from UMass opened each session with questions regarding what makes Reading a great place to live as well as what are some challenges to living in Reading. Residents in both sessions highlighted the family atmosphere of the community, the proximity to Boston and New Hampshire, and a walkable downtown as highlights of living in Reading. Other residents pointed out quality organizations in town, including the YMCA, RCTV, and the Police and Fire departments. “It feels safe to live here,” one resident proclaimed.
The noted challenges to living in Reading included taxes, difficulty connecting if one does not have children, and downtown parking. Lack of affordable housing was also listed as a concern. Coyle shifted the conversation to what a center for active living could look like, both physically and programmatically. A place for social interaction and a drop-in space was mentioned in both sessions. The concept of a multi-generational facility and programs was also a concern of several residents. Other ideas included evening and weekend events for seniors, arts and cultural programs, and continuing education classes.
Coyle’s questions focused on staffing for a possible center and ideas regarding location. Several persons shared that they consider the downtown location of the current Pleasant Street Center as an asset, though parking is always a concern. The town-owned land on Oakland Road across from Reading Memorial High School was also mentioned. The evening session also pointed out the possible use of multiple sites for programming.
When questioned about the current Pleasant Street Center, Coyle referred to a 2017 study pointing out the inadequacies of the center, including the lack of programming space, an inadequate kitchen, and no bathroom on the main floor of the building. “The location of the Pleasant Street Center is ideal, but the building is not,” Coyle noted.
Other residents questioned the cost of a new center, why Reading needed to provide every program when other communities already offered some programs, and asked how Reading could maximize space already available in locations such as the YMCA, the Library, and RCTV.
There are plans for an additional community forum in May. A town-wide survey will be available in September. ReCALC hopes to report its findings to Town Meeting in November and will possibly seek funding for a feasibility study.
Both sessions were recorded and are available on the RCTV YouTube page.