Renovating COA Could Be ‘Politically Practical’ Solution, But Not For This Year

by Alan Pollock
Some renovation scenarios included the addition of shed dormers to expand the usable space in some upstairs rooms, as envisioned in this architect’s rendering. CATALYIST ARCHITECTURE Some renovation scenarios included the addition of shed dormers to expand the usable space in some upstairs rooms, as envisioned in this architect’s rendering. CATALYIST ARCHITECTURE

CHATHAM – A renovated and expanded center for active living at Stony Hill Road might have one feature that a brand new council on aging on Main Street in West Chatham wouldn’t have: the ability to pass muster with voters.

Architects say renovating and expanding the existing senior center could cost over $6.5 million, and would potentially allow the building to be used for another 30 years. Any work would disrupt activities at the CFAL for a year or more.

“Is this perfect? Is it ideal? No. Is it politically practical?” select board member Dean Nicastro asked. “I think it makes a lot more practical sense than trying to envision a much larger building at considerably larger cost on some as-yet undefined, un-found location in town.”

Meeting jointly with the council on aging, the select board heard a briefing Monday from architect Kurt Raber of Catalyst Architecture, who presented several options for the Stony Hill Road building. The cost projections were between just under $1 million for urgent repairs and work required by building and other codes, to $6,500,100 for a thorough renovation and addition with room for an adult day program.

The select board said the options need thorough review, which cannot take place in time for a proposal to be included on this year’s May annual town meeting warrant.

Raber’s firm is the same one that provided an assessment of the building in 2011, when the town was seeking an addition for an adult day program. At the time, they identified a number of urgent problems like a cracked foundation and the need for a new heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system. In his recent visit to the building, he found that the items “still needed to be attended to.” The town is working with the Cape Light Compact on a potential replacement of the HVAC system with modern heat pumps.

“It’s time,” he said. A new system will be more efficient and effective and will benefit from rebates and grants from Mass Save that make it “tremendously advantageous to the town” to complete the work, Raber said. The base estimate for the most urgent repairs and improvements is $995,400, he said.

A next tier of work, identified as Option 1A, would remove the lally columns in the basement and first floor multipurpose rooms, a key complaint. “There’s always someone who has a column in the way, like the old Boston Garden,” Raber quipped. An adult day program could be located in the basement under this configuration, which would also include a dormer that would add usable space to some of the rooms on the second floor. The price estimate for this package is just over $2.1 million.

Option 1B includes all the previous items, as well as a 10-foot addition to enlarge the first floor multipurpose room so it could accommodate lunches with 40 or 45 people, rather than about 30 people under current conditions. It would also restore the building’s front entrance with a reconfigured lobby and administrative area. The second floor would also be somewhat reconfigured to improve usability and efficiency; this option would cost an estimated $3.3 million.

Option 2, the $6.5 million package, would include all the other work as well as an addition on the left side of the building with an adult day program in a larger, windowed space on the first floor. The configuration also allows an expanded kitchen.

“Staff talked about the ability to do meals for bigger groups of 40, 45 people,” Raber said.

In all cases, the work could be done in phases to allow the CFAL to remain open with only limited interruptions in programming. Raber said the contractor might be required to do the noisiest work on the weekends, for instance.

“Wouldn’t that be a cost increase to the project?” select board member Shareen Davis asked. Raber said it certainly would, and his price estimates include a hefty contingency in anticipation of that extra cost.

“The longer the contract is, the more the cost,” he said. If, on the other hand, the building could be vacated entirely during construction, the job would likely be completed in a year or slightly less.

Select board member Michael Schell said it was “optimistic” to believe that the work could be done with crews working only three days a week.

“As an investor, are we throwing good money after bad?” select board member Jeffrey Dykens asked. “Do the bones of this building warrant improvement?”

“I think so,” Raber said. With the exception of the cracked foundation and related issues, “it’s still a sturdy building” that could be expected to last another 30 years when fully renovated. The building already has a fire suppression system, a sewer connection, a 400 amp electrical service and generator. “There’s a lot of infrastructure already there that sort of makes sense to build around,” he said.

Last October, the select board asked Town Manager Jill Goldsmith to commission the study, abandoning any effort to bring voters another proposal for a new CFAL building. A proposal to build a new center on donated land at 1610 Main St. in West Chatham earned support from a majority of voters last year, but failed to obtain the two-thirds majority needed to pass.

“It feels great that there’s something we can move forward with,” COA board member Laura Everett said.

“We’ve got to start doing something,” member Joan Bagnell said. But she warned that any renovation would still need to win two-thirds approval at town meeting.

COA board member Stan Mansfield noted that the renovation plans do not include a single, large multipurpose room like the ones seen in visits to other area senior centers. The largest room in the renovation plans is still inadequate for some programs, he said. “It’s about a third the size of the smallest one we’ve seen,” Mansfield said.

Resident Dave Mott, a vocal opponent of the 1610 Main St. plans, said he could see himself supporting a renovation plan “because it does make use of assets that we already have.” He said he applauds the town for commissioning the study.

Community Services Director Leah LaCross said Option 2 would meet all of the needs that staff identified for the CFAL, whether or not the work is done in phases.

“What’s important to us is that we finally have a building that will really fit our needs,” she said.

Nicastro said it is important for the town to move ahead with a plan that provides a usable space for senior programming and a renovation or expansion is worth exploring.

“I do think this concept merits serious consideration by the town,” he said.

The select board said it would revisit the topic after this year’s town meeting, seeking further refinements to the design options Raber presented.