Reading, MA — A public forum regarding several options for the location of a new senior center was presented at the Pleasant Street Center last Tuesday. The Select Board, the Council on Aging, and the Reading Center for Active Living Committee (ReCALC) all attended the forum, and public members were allowed to offer feedback on the presented ideas.
Select Board chair Mark Dockser moderated the forum, which began with a brief presentation on the activities ReCALC has taken thus far, including an overview of the results of a survey offered to town residents this past summer. Dockser shared, “It is clear that the needs of the Reading senior community are not sufficiently being taken care of right now.” He also noted that 46% of the persons who took the survey indicated they would be willing to see an increase of $100 or more on their tax bill to pay for a new senior center.
Dockser also clarified his opinion that a senior center and a new elementary school are high priorities for the town and that he does not see the two projects competing with one another; the town needs both.
Town Manager Fidel Maltez gave a similar presentation to the one shown at the January 24 Select Board meeting regarding several possible sites being considered. The first potential plan is to remodel the current Pleasant Street Center. Possible plans for this site include expansion of the building to three stories with a combined 20,000 gross square feet and two levels of parking with up to fifty parking spaces—possible costs for this expansion range from $24.9 million to $28.4 million.
The former Walgreens on Harnden Street sits on a quarter of an acre, with a town-owned parking lot adjacent. The building has 10,000 gross square feet on the first floor and 5,000 gross square feet on the second floor. Possible costs for upgrading this building are $9.9 million to $10.5 million. Between the on-site parking and town-owned spaces, there are about fifty parking spaces nearby this facility. After some resident feedback, Maltez also presented rough plans to expand the second floor of the building. Additional costs for this expansion have yet to be determained. It was also noted that these suggested costs do not include the cost of purchasing the property.
Maltez suggested two options for facilities on the four-and-a-half-acre property on Oakland Road. Either would create a building with 16,000 gross square feet and ample parking. The cost for the first option could be from $19 million to $22 million, and the second option could cost from $17.6 million to $20.3 million. Maltez shared that residents have expressed concerns regarding traffic and other issues with this site.
The final proposal would be to tear down the current building at 25 Haven Street and replace it with a three-story building with forty-five parking spaces on the lowest level and two stories of program space totaling 24,100 gross square feet on the upper levels. The potential cost for this option could be between $27.5 million and $31.6 million. This also does not include the cost of purchasing the property.
Maltez also shared that the four and a half buildable acres on town-owned property on Symonds Way is a possibility for a new center. However, a separate committee is currently looking into the best use of that land. There may also be some environmental concerns with that property.
Over fifty residents attended the forum, raising concerns such as building accessibility with multi-floored options, parking concerns in the downtown, especially at the Walgreens site, and timing. Dockser shared that timing is related to which proposal is decided upon, and the earliest a new building would be available is two to three years away. He also noted concerns about specific issues, such as flooring and room usage, that the ideas presented are “very preliminary ideas.”
It was also suggested by resident Tom Mottl that the Walgreens property could be purchased and the Pleasant Street Center maintained, creating a “campus atmosphere” for activities.
Dockser reported that the Select Board would be meeting next Tuesday in executive session and could decide to act on either the Haven Street or the Harnden Street properties. However, he emphasized that the board may choose to act on neither proposal. If the Select Board does act, a feasibility study would be conducted to prepare final plans for Town Meeting approval. If Town Meeting approves the plan, it then would be presented to the voters for final approval.
The public forum ended at 8:50 pm.