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Senior center has been decades in the making

Date: 4/12/2013

By Carley Dangona

WESTFIELD — After decades in the making, a new senior center is on the horizon for Westfield residents.

Mayor Daniel Knapik announced the city's intention to construct a new senior center on Noble Street on April 8 at the current site, which is located at 40 Main St. According to historical documents, the project has been in the works since the late 1970s.

Mary Noble furnished the property to the Westfield Housing Authority with the intention of creating senior housing. On March 21, the Massachusetts Probate and Family Court Department ruled to allow the city to create a community senior center.

"Construction of a senior center on the property comports with the general charitable intent of Ms. Mary Noble," Judge David Fuller stated in his ruling.

The mayor said Dietz & Company Architects from Springfield and Courtstreet Architects Inc. from Newton were hired to design the approximately 20,000 square-foot project.

Tina Gorman, executive director of the Westfield Senior Center, said, "It's so exciting to get back on track," adding that she has been working with the mayor on the project since he was elected. In her opening remarks Gorman called the center her "one room schoolhouse," referring to the limited space available.

The single room serves as an office for the Whip City Travel Club, a rehearsal space for the Do Re Mi Singers, a cafeteria, a recreation room and a stage area.

Knapik noted that the 1984 Economic Analysis Report of the Pioneer Valley development of a brand new senior center. "Here we are 30 years later to announce that we have a home [for the new center] and we are going to start the design, and before you know it we're going to start construction," Knapik said.

To illustrate the timeframe, the mayor shared a January 1979 Westfield News article about the "Cozy Corner," as the senior center was name when it was located in the Town Hall. The article mentioned the addition of an elevator so that people would no longer have to be carried up and down the stairs to access the basement where the corner was located.

Resident Lucille Gintout reminded the mayor of her promise to organize a protest march downtown if the project did not move forward. "The project should be the first thing on your agenda. Never mind the beautification projects — I want to see the bulldozers [at the Noble Street site]. I'm going to keep track of this. I'll probably be dead before it's built," she said.

"You don't have to march down Elm Street because I'm on top of this — you don't have to worry about accessibility issues or parking issues because we're on top of that. We have a whole team of people working on this project," Gorman said.

"Just last month I received my AARP card, so I'm slowing but surely joining the ranks and I look forward to becoming someone that will utilize this facility in years to come," state Sen. Michael Knapik said.

The mayor said that the feedback from the Friends of the Westfield Senior Center was "critical" to the process because it would provide questions and concerns from the seniors about the project.

"The size of the property is comparable to the senior centers in Agawam and Northampton," Jack Leary, chair of the Council on Aging, said.

"It's a great feeling to move forward," Tom Humphrey, president of the Friends, said.