Last night, the Town of Reading had a public forum discussing the potential for a new senior/community center at the former Walgreens site, 17 Harnden Street.
Mark Dockser gave a brief overview of the various boards and committees that have been involved in the process. Mark went on to discuss a potential 10 year or 20-year lease on Walgreens property and then the offer to purchase property in Reading. He then discussed due diligence on site, inspections, appraisal value. Bringing it up in February for a special Town Meeting and indefinitely postponing it on the November warrant. If it passes in February, it would then be a debt exclusion to the voters in April.
Anna Julian, IHCD Sr Project Director with the Institute for Human Centered Design (IHCD) went over the projections for senior demographics. It’s projected that the number of seniors, 65 years and older, will double by the year 2065. In addition, 5.8 million seniors as of the year 2020 have Dementia and an overwhelming majority of disabilities are acquired over the course of one’s lifetime. She then went over the 7 Principles of Universal Inclusive Design:
1. Equitable Use
3. Simple and Intuitive Use
4. Perceptible Information
5. Tolerance for Error
6. Low Physical Effort
7. Size and Space for Approach and Use
John Catlin, Principal Architect, the owner, and founder of Catlin Architecture spoke next. John is the lead architect on all projects that come through the firm and has designed over 50 seniors’ centers. He mentioned that 3 core values will allow everyone to age healthy: Nutrition, Socialization and Exercise. He then went over a sample senior center tour check list which included:
- Needs assessment
- Community wide survey
- Focus group meetings
- Stakeholder investments
- Facility visits
John then went over a senior center project that he worked on in Wilbraham, MA that is breaking ground in two weeks. At 16,000sf and serving 4,500 elders in the town, the new two-story center includes a 2,500sf Multipurpose Room, Commercial Kitchen, Cafe, Lounge/Library, Classrooms, Games Room, Fitness Studio, Administration, Storage and Patio/Garden. It was noted that the two low bids on the project pulled out and the third lowest is starting construction in 2 weeks.
Town Manager, Fidel Maltez, then went over the arguments “For and Against” the purchases/renovations of the following properties: the Walgreens property in the $12-14million range, renovating the existing Pleasant Street Center $18-21 million, Symonds Way 36,000sq in the $ 30-40 million dollar range but extremely preliminary and Oakland Rd in the $30-40 million dollar range but also extremely preliminary.
Marilyn Shapleigh, from the Council on Aging, spoke next and made it be clear, they wanted to be heard.
ADA requirements are minimum standards, we can do better to understand it and do it right from the beginning. Parking is an ongoing issue and unclear on a solution. We need to make sure we accommodate people now and down the road 30 years from now.Marilyn Shapleigh
Various members of the public spoke next with opinions varying from buying the property, holding on to it, building a parking garage on it, overpaying for it at the $5million dollar price tag, leasing it instead, to it’s the right idea but the wrong location. Oakland Rd was specifically mentioned as well as being completely full of traffic and 1st time drivers and not a good fit. Symonds Way was also brought up as being next to a gun club and not a good location for seniors or the community to be next to.
The Public Forum accomplished what it set out to do by gathering the public’s input. It’s unsure which direction things go from here as the Walgreens property is delayed until at least February 2023.