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Consultants reveal schematic design for new senior center

Date: 11/26/2013

By Carley Dangona

WESTFIELD – The schematic plans for the long-awaited senior center were unveiled to a meager audience at a public information session on Nov. 20. The goal of the project is to create a center that would accommodate future growth in the senior population while fitting in to the landscape of Westfield.

During the meeting, consultants walked the 15-member crowd through the preliminary design for the new 20,000 square-foot, $6.5 million facility that will be built on Noble Street.

The layout of the 113-space parking area, building structure and floor plans were presented. The site will have entrances on Noble Street and Murphy Circle. It was announced that the Veterans Services department would move from City Hall to the new center.

“We’re months away from ground breaking,” Mayor Daniel Knapik said. “We didn’t go into this blindly.” He explained that city officials and the Council on Aging (COA) staff has done thorough research, including visits to multiple senior centers in other communities.

Tina Gorman, executive director of the COA, said, “We looked at several different buildings that various architectural firms did. If I’ve learned anything from this process, it’s the fact that every senior center in every community is going to be built based on that community. It’s not a cookie cutter-type thing.”

Peter Wells of The Berkshire Design Group Inc., one of the consultants for the project, stated that the site plan is slated for submission to the city by the third week of December. He said the plans would be submitted to the Planning Board for its approval in January. At that time, abutters to the project will receive notification by mail to attend a public hearing.

Gorman said the next step is to define the interior details of the center, which should be complete by the end of March 2013. Once completed, the project would go out to bid and then to the City Council for approval of a bond for the project.

Gorman remarked there should be a “shovel in the ground by the end of summer or beginning of fall in 2014.” The estimated timeframe for construction is 13 to 18 months, with an anticipated move by fall of 2015.

Once the finite details are completed, the Friends of the Westfield Senior Center will face the task of running a capital campaign to raise $500,000 for the purchase of the furnishings.

The schematic plans were presented at the senior center two weeks prior to the Nov. 20 meeting to a “packed house,” according to Gorman. “The seniors are very excited,” she said, noting that the plans are on display at the COA, 40 Main St., for anyone to view. She added that more information sessions would be hosted at dates to be determined.

In preparation for the building, better drainage is being created for the lot by re-routing a drain line. Wells explained, “The drain line is virtually flat. We will increase its pitch to improve water flow.”

Wells added that Tighe & Bond is currently assessing Noble Street to improve its accessibility for drivers and pedestrians.

Knapik said, “About 14 years ago the city undertook an effort to reconstruct old neighborhoods, called the Old Town Initiative.” He explained that while the changes were mostly to improve utilities such as water and electricity, that improved sidewalks were also part of the effort.

Daniel Garte, architect for Dietz & Company Architects Inc., reviewed the details of the schematic.

The design includes two wings, a one-story wing and a two-story wing. A large multipurpose room with a folding, soundproofed partition that seats 240 people is a main feature of the building.

In addition, a two-story, library/community living space, a gym, an arts and crafts room, a computer classroom and a billiards room will be included. The right side of the building will include an expansion space if needed for future growth.

Garte said, “[The design] is very sensitive to the scale of the area. The materials are in keeping with the character of the neighborhood.” He said that many of the already existing trees would remain in place and that the center would include a backup generator in order to utilize the center as a shelter in times of natural disasters.

“We think it will be a great resource for the community,” he stated.

Gorman commented, “Part of this has been an educational process for the community to understand what we do at the COA. A lot of people have the misconception that we do programs and activities, we play bingo or we do trips, [but] we are really a social services agency.

She continued, “For the most part we are the first agency seniors in Westfield contact when they have any kind of problem with healthcare, finances, protective service, housing and legal issues. There’s a lot of work that’s being done at the COA beyond just the programming.”

Gorman explained that the design incorporates office space since COA staff is dealing with confidential issues. “It’s not just about where we’re going to eat lunch or where we’re going to have computer classes,” she said.