LtE: Applause for Progress Toward a Larger, More Accessible Senior Center

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Dear Editor,

The Council on Aging applauds Reading’s progress toward meeting our Town’s need for a larger, more accessible senior center. In the fall, the Town posted a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) for Designer Services to guide the Town through a feasibility study funded with ARPA funds to meet our senior center/elder services needs. Six proposals were submitted, and after careful review, the Town selected BH&A (Bargmann, Hendrie & Archetype, Inc.), a firm that brings a rich portfolio of relevant experience and skill to our project. BH&A will guide Reading through a feasibility study, establishing guiding principles based on our needs, assessing potential sites and designs, developing cost estimates, and delivering a final proposal in the coming months.

Our current building, the Pleasant Street Center (built in 1883 as a combination fire station, police station, jail, and town office building, and now designated with historic site status), was converted to a senior center in 1993, and our community has enjoyed using the building as a hub for elder services programming ever since. But at this point, the building is bursting at its aging seams.

Over the last decade, needs assessments the Town commissioned from the UMass Gerontology Institute, surveys and reports from Elder Services and the Council on Aging, and most recently, at the request of the Select Board, a thoughtful review of our community needs by the Reading Center for Active Living Committee (ReCALC), have consistently concluded that the building is woefully inadequate. Population growth has resulted in popular programs filled to capacity with long waiting lists. Antiquated building design fails to meet universal design requirements which are essential for an inclusive, age-friendly environment. Heating and air conditioning systems are inefficient and often ineffective. The building has become notoriously plagued with noxious odors in the winter. Accessible parking is very limited.

The rooms lack technology to support the capabilities of modern-day hearing aids. Sections of the building are not wheelchair accessible. Communal dining requires serving food prepared elsewhere because the kitchen is small and minimally equipped. Office space needed for social work staff and our nurse advocate to meet privately with clients is lacking. Administrative staff are working out of reconfigured hall space and partially partitioned activity rooms. The list goes on and on. The bottom line is that we need a larger, more accessible senior center NOW, and because the age 60+ group is the fastest growing segment of the population, the urgency increases steadily.

Engaging BH&A to provide professional guidance on the feasibility of our available options is a major step forward in addressing the needs of our elder community. We thank and applaud our Town Manager, Fidel Maltez, the Select Board, the ReCALC Committee, Elder, Human, and Community Services, and our colleagues on the Council on Aging for their work in helping the Town reach this critical stage.

Please send comments/questions to

The Reading Council on Aging

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