The Chester Building Committee proposed a 5,000-square-foot senior center to architect John Caitlin late last week. According to Board of Selectmen Chairman Dan Galante, the original proposal was 6,500 square feet, just two weeks ago. Caitlin will go before the Building Committee on Friday with a revised floor plan for the senior center and a draft program for the public safety/fire complex.
There’d be room for storage and expansion of added rooms, dependent upon if seniors can raise funds. The current senior center is 44-by-32 feet. Council on Aging Director Claudia Provencal said seniors are going to do a big push. They hope to raise a couple thousand dollars at a June yard sale.
“Now that we have land and the green light to go forward, we can go for grants and fundraise,” Provencal said.
Building Committee Chairman William Murray said Provencal is an amazing fundraiser. So far, they’ve raised $25,000.
“We can always take away at the end, or fundraise more,” Murray said.
After presenting West Brookfield’s design, committee members went around the table and weighed in on what size they feel the building should be. West Brookfield was designed at 3,900 square feet, but it was reduced to 3,500 square feet. After touring the West Brookfield building, Provencal said that, while it was a beautiful building, it was too small.
“There were chairs in the hallway,” Provencal said. “Tables were laid up against the walls, which is dangerous for seniors. It was totally unorganized. There wasn’t any storage space.”
Just 20 minutes away, Caitlin said he feels confident that at 5,000 square feet, he can get a building that’ll work for the town and for the seniors who will use it.
“I’d like to keep it as flexible as possible but still meet our budget constraints,” Caitlin said. “We’re at such an early stage, but we have to look hard at what meets the requirements for this town, not just immediately, but years out. We can get a lot out of a 5,000-square-foot building.”
Officer Scott Chatigny, who serves as the public safety representative on the Building Committee, said that dropping the number to 5,000 square feet is more within the town’s budget. He likes the idea of having space for storage or expansion. However, citizen-at-large board member Rick Green said he’d prefer a small space, looking at about 4,000 to 4,500 square feet.
“I’m afraid we’re going down the wrong path,” Green said. “There’s plenty of history with that. I don’t want to go through it again. We’re spending so much time on it, and voters might shoot it down again.”
Yet Galante said because Caitlin presented West Brookfield’s plan, which is similar to Hubbardston, he feels confident that a facility in the 5,000-square-feet range would be fully functional.
“John (Caitlin) has 35 years experience and can build a fully functional facility that’s useful and have the facilities that we need it to have,” Galante said.
Citizen-at-large board member Susan Rayne said $1.8 million is the budget, and they absolutely can’t go above that number. That’s down from the original proposal of $2.2 million. A meeting will be held with police and fire chiefs to discuss how they will operate in the new facility.
“The way they do things will change,” Caitlin said. “Chiefs will have to accommodate that if we change things on them.”