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Fountain Park ranked as top site for new senior center

Date: 4/16/2015

WILBRAHAM – A roughly two-acre area at Fountain Park now ranks as the top proposed site for a new senior center, beating out two other sites, after the Senior Center Building Feasibility Subcommittee reviewed the site at its April 8 meeting.

Director of Elder Affairs Paula Dubord told Reminder Publications the subcommittee toured Fountain Park on April 1 with architect John Catlin of Catlin & Petrovick Architects and Jules Gaudreau, a member of the Board of Directors for the Wilbraham Nature & Cultural Committee.

“John Catlin thought it was ideal,” she added. “[The ratings] were very high. They were the highest ratings of the three sites we toured.”

Dubord said Fountain Park is a 144-acre parcel of land. The front parcel where many of the park’s buildings are located is the area is where the proposed site is situated.

Gaudreau indicated that the long-term lease for the property could cost the town $1 annually, she noted.

The other sites include 7.26 acres behind Christ the King Lutheran Church at 758 Main St. and the Mile Tree Elementary School baseball field, which consists of 3.5 acres.

Categories were ranked on a scale of three to minus three, with zero being a neutral vote. Fountain Park scored 16 points while 758 Main Street and Mile Tree attained seven and nine points respectively.

Fountain Park scored a three in its location, existing structures, access and traffic, as well as its view. It received neural ratings for hydrology, geology, zoning and topography. The site’s only negative score was a minus-one for ownership. By comparison, the other sites also ranked the same for ownership.

Dubord said the reason Fountain Park rank high was because of its location, view, and because the town could save money by not having to purchase the property.

Keller Williams Realty lists the 758 Main St. property for $139,000.

Interim Town Administrator Thomas Sullivan said the committee would request that the Wilbraham Nature & Cultural Committee submit a draft proposal of a lease for the Fountain Park property in order to “see something more substantial.”

Dubord said the lease change proposal should be as specific as possible.

“From past experience, there’s a lot of issues that we’ve had in our present lease [with the Scantic Valley YMCA Family Center] that just were spoken about and were not written in the lease,” she added.

Senior Center Feasibility Committee member Nicholas Manolakis said he thinks the Wilbraham Nature & Cultural Committee also wants to build on the property.

Currently, constructing new buildings is not permitted in the property lease. There would need to be a legislative change in order for any construction to take place on the property.

“They’re trying to create a venue at Fountain Park,” Manolakis noted. “They can only renovate what’s in there. They can’t add buildings or anything else. They can’t even put in public bathrooms. So, they need to change the legislature and this would be their answer so they can create all these facilities at Fountain Park.”

Sullivan said any changes to Fountain Park’s building parameters would be based on legislative change. However, a Town Meeting vote is required before the matter is brought to the state level.  

If the issue is brought to Town Meeting, residents might look more favorably on it if the change focused exclusively on the two-acre parcel rather than all of Fountain Park, he noted.

“I think you’re going to build a building on their property and they’ll probably want some access to it,” Sullivan added.

The committee needs to speak to state Rep. Angelo Puppolo Jr. and state Sen. Eric Lesser about sponsoring a legislative change for the property, Dubord added.

The next step for Catlin will be a site evaluation, which includes an examination of sample soils, Dubord said. Catlin would likely complete a preliminary schematic design within the next three to four months.

While Catlin works on the design portion of the project, the committee will be doing their “due diligence” to examine all possibilities with regards to the legislative change, she added.