LITTLETON Representatives from LLB Architects this week presented plans for a long-awaited new senior center on Shattuck Street, next to the site of Town Hall and the new library.
Select Board Chair Cindy Napoli said the project is “long overdue” for seniors, who have been waiting for a senior center of their own since at least 2014.
“This has been a project in progress for quite some time now, so when this proposal came back to the Space Needs group, we were pretty excited about this location,” Napoli said. “It wasn’t something that we had visualized before,. Certainly, it’s a good fit, being able to have the seniors on the Shattuck Street campus to utilize the library and town offices.”
Brian Valentine, of LLB Architects, first gave a presentation analyzing the space currently occupied by Indian Hill Music, a music school and performing-arts venue, as an option for the senior center. He and his team concluded that the building isn’t well-suited for the needs of a senior center for multiple reasons, including its multilevel design, its energy-inefficiency compared to a new building, its lack of a sprinkler system and low sewer capacity. The entire lower level of the building, where a gym was proposed, also lacks windows.
Instead, Valentine suggested that the town utilize the Shattuck Street site to build an L-shaped senior center into the hill behind the existing Town Hall. The site would feature a large multipurpose room and “a lot of really great natural light,” he said.
As Napoli mentioned, the site will also be within walking distance of Town Hall, the library, a proposed walking trail, and a senior co-living community, a development on which The Sun previously reported.
She added, however, that the Select Board is working to retire the use of the word “senior center” because the building will house the Department of Elder and Human Services, which serves populations beyond just seniors.
The Select Board as a whole was excited to see the first plans for the potential new building.
“I really feel as though it’s just something that we do owe the seniors,” Select Board member Chuck DeCoste said. “The seniors have certainly stepped up and been supportive of any and all projects that were brought before them. It is time to step up and make them a home, if you will. And I’m excited about the possibilities of bringing something generally like what was just presented on that location forward to Town Meeting.”
Select Board member Paul Glavey said he was “tickled” by the presentation, and that he is “appreciative” that the Select Board kept pushing the project forward through the pandemic.
Select Board member Joseph Knox said the project has “been pushed back, kicked down the road, always under reason that it wasn’t going to be done,” he said. “I am so excited to reach this point.”
After Valentine’s presentation, town Treasurer Sean O’Brien gave a presentation about how the project may be financed. He estimated that the project’s design and construction may cost $11 million, and that $3 million of that amount would come from the Senior Center Stabilization Fund, designed to reduce the borrowing amount. The remaining amount, around $8 million, would be financed over 20 years.
After O’Brien’s presentation, Napoli immediately said she thinks a debt-service exclusion, which would temporarily raise property taxes for the duration of the project’s debt, “is not an option” for this project.
“The seniors are stressed, strained enough financially, I just … personally am not in favor of a debt exclusion to give them the senior center that they’ve been waiting for for many, many years. It just doesn’t seem fair,” she said.
Although the board held off on making any decisions Monday, Glavey advocated for improved long-range planning to predict other large projects that may arise and allow for more comfort with the budget.
He also said he heard from two seniors before the meeting who were concerned that the project would increase their taxes. They told him, “‘It’s great if you want to give a senior center to the seniors, but it’s pretty ironic if you give them a tax increase at the same time,’” he said, adding, “That’s the number-one issue they’re facing.”