Plans for new senior center in South Hadley moving ahead

  • Leslie Hennessey, director of the South Hadley Council on Aging, presents floor plans for the new South Hadley Senior Center in November 2017. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Thursday, March 08, 2018

SOUTH HADLEY — Plans to demolish the town’s existing senior center and build a new one could come with an estimated $9.8 million price tag.

Council on Aging director Leslie Hennessey presented plans for a new 18,500-square-foot senior center that would be built where the current senior center is located at 45 Dayton St. at a Select Board meeting last month.

“We were really excited that they want to hear more and want to continue the conversation,” Hennessey said.

The current senior center was built in 1924 and at one time served as an elementary school. Hennessey has pointed out its deficiencies in the past: it’s not as accessible to the handicapped as it could be, there are fire safety and security concerns, it has poor ventilation, lacks storage space, and it’s just too small.

Two studies of the building showed that it would be too expensive to renovate, Hennessey said. “If you put the money into it you still have a building that is almost 100 years old,” she said.

Other sites have been suggested for a new center. But EDM Eagles of Pittsfield, hired by the town last year to conduct a feasibility study, determined that the current site, being centrally located and near Newton Street, is the best place for the new senior center.

The Council on Aging is asking the Select Board to approve a warrant article seeking voter approval for a $9.8 million bond to cover the demolition of the existing building and the design, construction and furnishing of its replacement. The bond would be voted on at a Town Meeting in May.

At a January special Town Meeting, members voted to create a Senior Center Stabilization Fund and appropriated $200,000 for it, for the purpose of improving or replacing the senior center. 

“We have some fundraising ideas and will likely have a capital campaign,” Hennessey said. “Friends of South Hadley Elderly will be helping to fundraise for the new center.”

At this point, she is unsure when the project would begin, but engineers estimate demolition and construction would take about 14 months, depending on weather.

The new design features a curbless driveway out front, wider hallways, handicapped accessible bathrooms, and safety call buttons in various places around the building. Almost every room would be multipurpose, serving as spaces for crafts, support groups, meals, movies and games.

On average, 260 seniors visit the center each week, according to Hennessey. Not only does the Senior Center provide meals and host events for the elderly, it’s also a kitchen for Meals on Wheels, serving around 100 meals every weekday. The new design takes this into account, with a larger kitchen and separate door for Meals on Wheels volunteers to use.

Hennessey will host a meeting at the South Hadley Public Library on March 22 at 6 p.m. to talk about the project and gather input from the public.

Sarah Robertson can be reached at srobertson@gazettenet.com.