Plans for new senior center in Southampton coming into focus

By EMILY THURLOW

Staff Writer

Published: 03-07-2023 2:34 PM

SOUTHAMPTON — The town’s Council on Aging does its best to offer various programs and activities to Southampton seniors. Some mornings, the day begins with Spanish lessons or a coffee hour, others it may start off with a tai chi or yoga class. But one thing the Council on Aging cannot do is provide those programs at the same time as the entire center is essentially one big room.

“If someone is playing cards over here, you can’t do yoga over there,” said Joan Linnehan, director of the Council on Aging.

The space is “woefully inadequate” and needs to be six times as large as the current 2,000-square-foot space within a portion of the former Larrabee School, said David Eisen, principal at Abacus Architects + Planners, the Allston-based architectural firm working with the Ad Hoc Senior Center Building Feasibility Committee to design a new senior center.

“Our research shows that our current senior center doesn’t come close to fulfilling the needs of our current senior population,” Janet Cain, co-chair of the feasibility committee, said at a recent informational meeting held at William E. Norris School.

One-third of the town’s 6,200 people, as of 2020, are over 60 years old — a figure that is projected to rise in future years.

After months of discussion, visits to senior centers throughout the Valley and surveying the community, Eisen’s firm compiled what people want in a new building and concluded that it needs to be 12,000 square feet to meet the present and future needs of the town’s seniors.

Among some of the issues with the current space, Eisen cited volume control, insufficient storage for charging uses and medical equipment, lack of privacy in the office during consultations, minimal outdoor space, limited parking, and poor accessibility for van automobile and foot traffic. The single-stall bathroom is also not code compliant.

The space also has a less than desirable floor plan layout and an inadequate septic system, which prevents the center from serving meals, he added.

Build it and they will come

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Eisen said the center’s size, location and other factors are likely limiting attendance and/or participation in programming.

“What we’ve found when you build a new senior center or community center that’s double the size, three times the amount of people come,” he said. “If you build it, they will come.”

A newer building and associated programming will also likely attract people on the younger end of the senior population, whereas a majority of those attending now are on the older end of that demographic.

Though the study is not complete, some of the features mentioned in the current conceptual design include a commercial kitchen, medical equipment storage and laundry room, an exercise room, a game room, an arts and crafts room, and a multipurpose room.

The feasibility committee is looking at four potential sites for the center, including the Town Hall building and 9.2-acre town-owned parcel at 210 College Highway, the privately-owned 16.2-acre parcel at 79 Clark St., the privately-owned 7.24-acre parcel at 89 Clark St. and the 41.5-acre parcel at 0 College Highway.

Two other locations — the current police station at 8 East St./215 College Highway and the former Harley Davidson building at 17 College Highway — have been eliminated as possibilities.

The main objective of the sites was to find a location that would be close to the center of town, easily accessible, and plenty of space to grow.

The conceptual layouts for 79 and 89 Clark streets seemed to be among the more favorable locations for a future center based on public comment citing their proximity to Conant Park and Edwards Public Library and possible engagement opportunities. Eisen said that both respective property owners, Marmon/Keystone LLC and Ryan Geeleher, have also stated they are willing to sell their properties.

“For me, the Clark Street properties are far superior,” said resident Jim Seney. “If the senior center is on Clark Street and I go and do a yoga class and I’m going to leave and see that there’s a ball game at Conant Park … so I walk to the ball game and enjoy the game. Then I notice there’s some grandparents of one of the players … and then I’m engaging with the community now and the community is engaging with me.”

James and Eugene Labrie, owners of 0 College Highway, are willing to donate land for public safety and possibly willing to sell land for the senior center, according to the firm’s presentation.

The feasibility study and the committee to create the study came about the town learned that a late resident had left a substantial bequest to the town for the construction of a new senior center. The resident, David “Red” Parsons, who died May 17, 2021 at the age of 86, left the town $2.5 million from his estate with the caveat that a feasibility study for a new facility be completed within two years of his death. The will also funds the study.

Based on the current progress report, all signs point to the town meeting Parsons’ deadline, says Town Administrator Ed Gibson.

“There is nothing that I have seen that says we’re not going to have a completed feasibility study for May 17. I envision that as coming back with here’s a preferred parcel, here’s a secondary parcel and why, and I think that completes the town’s compliance with the will,” he said.

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