Last night, the Council on Aging (COA), had their monthly meeting and explored the possibility of a new senior center. More specifically “Feedback to send to the Reading Center for Active Living Committee (RECALC) on information provided to date regarding potential conversion of Walgreens site to a new senior center” as an agenda topic.
The COA engaged in discussions surrounding the potential future of the Reading senior center. Several options were discussed , including those presented at the lunch and learn conducted at the Pleasant Street Center this week, which included the former Walgreens location. The COA discussed several key topics, including ensuring top level standards of accessibility and ADA compliance would be met with any option considered for a future center. The COA highlighted their concerns with the former Walgreens location in a letter (below) that will be presented to the RECALC, in hopes of gaining clarity on these issues before endorsing the purchase and use of the former Walgreens site.
The primary reasons we are looking for a new space for the Reading Senior Center are:
- lack of adequate accessibility
- the desire for additional space to meet the needs of the population we currently serve, and anticipate serving
Recommendations for Next Steps:
- Research: Complete the UMASS study and consider its recommendations before making decisions.
- Inclusivity: Engage an expert in the field of universal design to advise the COA, the ReCalc Committee, the Select Board, and other decision makers in this process about the design principles that are likely to “make or break” a new senior center’s ability to ensure the building’s infrastructure will be accessible to all, regardless of age, ability, or other demographics.
Our current senior center, in spite of what were undoubtedly sincere efforts on the part of well-meaning Reading residents and town leaders who saw the Reading Fire Station as a great opportunity, is not an inclusive environment.
Please, let’s consult an expert to help us avoid making the same mistakes again.
3. Feasibility: Conduct a feasibility study of any site before making a decision.
There are some clear benefits to this site including a larger footprint and an in-town location, but we also have some concerns around the suitability of the site which are listed below:
Accessibility is of key importance to the COA, and we feel that the Walgreen’s site needs further study. Prior to purchase of the building, it will be very important for the town to ensure that the building will be fully accessible. When reviewing the draft Walgreen layout, we are concerned that the square footage stated for rooms may actually be less when full accessibility is factored in. The Town must confirm that both accessibility and square footage for program space can be maintained.
After participating in a tour of Walgreens it became very clear that extensive interior improvement will need to occur in order to make this space accessible, provide sufficient storage space, and provide creative arrangement of space to include both permanent rooms as well as rooms that will expand to manage larger events. The senior community must receive assurance from the town that the problems with acoustics, poles in the middle of the floor, difficult to navigate stairs, lack of natural light and windows, non-glare flooring to protect our clients from falling must be fully addressed. The renovation must be done with high quality materials to accomplish this goal. There are other issues that need to be confirmed prior to the purchase of the former Walgreens to ensure that a sufficient budget is planned to take into account all these factors. Otherwise, we may find ourselves with technically more square footage but unusable space for expanded programs and services.
The parking situation is very unclear behind the former Walgreens. Although a second drawing includes a reconfiguration of the parking lot for 30 spaces it must be noted that this will impact the nearby businesses including the police station. The PSC currently has available 26 spaces behind the building, 2 handicap spaces, 1 space for delivery, and an additional 6 spaces across the street from the center. All of these spaces are identified with a sign “Senior Center Parking Only from 8:30am-5:00pm.” Before any decision is made on the purchase of the former Walgreens building parking will need to be agreed upon by the Town. This will become a larger issue as the population over the age of 60 in Reading continues to grow. As we look to improve our current space, a reduction in parking spots would be a step backward.
Long-Term Needs & Solution
In addition, space to expand is a necessary requirement as the elder population is growing.
Projections indicate that by the end of the decade, at least 30% of Reading’s population will be
60 years old or older.
It is unclear at this point if the town considers this building temporary (5 years) or more long- term permanent space for a Senior Center. The data is clear on the steady growth in the population of older adults. As the size of our clientele grows, we will have to expand our programing to continue to meet their needs. Currently, we have 1,400 participants in over 20 monthly programs, and we are seeing our numbers increase steadily as we recover from covid. Any new space should be able to accommodate the necessary program expansion for at least
the next ten years (perhaps much longer, depending upon the Town’s assumptions about the life of the building.) The Pleasant Street Center maintains a data base with daily usage and scheduled programs that can be accessed for further information to determine specific program needs and projected usage.
We do understand that former Walgreens is an unexpected development, and it is important to understand the possibilities. We also understand the time and effort everyone has put into this task to identify best practices and program needs. The data that has been collected gives us a lot of information that must be thoroughly analyzed to help us determine the best course of action in terms of location, accessibility, and program needs. The site visit data, the focus group feedback, and the survey results are integral in understanding the big picture of what is needed now and for the long term. We know, although assessing location is important it is not the only requirement in determining the best fit for a new Senior Center.