MERIDEN — The site of a former medical office building on Cook Avenue and the former Westfield Care & Rehab facility on Westfield Road are the most promising potential locations to house both a new senior center and health department, according to members of the project’s design team.
During a public meeting Tuesday night at Edison Middle School, representatives from design firm EDM and its partner SLR discussed the advantages and challenges of those sites as well as three other potential locations across the city that they reviewed during their analysis.
The design team determined a new senior center that provides the programming, meals and other features sought by residents who gave feedback through surveys, focus groups and one-on-one meetings, would need at least 25,000 square feet for its core program space, which would include dining, activities and meeting rooms and other features. The facility could have an additional 8,000 square feet for other indoor amenities, like a gym or indoor walking track. The design team also proposed outdoor amenities including a patio next to a multi-purpose dining room, and a small porch near the facility’s entrance. The proposed outdoor amenities would include a walking trail, flat lawn area for social events and activities, gardening area and the possible construction of outdoor athletic courts.
Meanwhile, the health department component of the project would need its own dedicated space, roughly 15,000 feet worth, according to designers’ estimates. That space would include a public health clinic, the department’s Women, Infants and Children program, environmental health, as well as Board of Education enrollment offices and other space the department needs.
The overall site would need roughly 120 visitor parking spaces as well as 75 parking spaces for the health department and staff, according to designers’ estimates.
In addition to reviewing the Cook Avenue and Westfield Road sites, the team reviewed the senior center’s current location at 22 W. Main St., as well as the Health Department’s current location at 165 Miller St. Both sites pose considerable challenges to the programming proposed, particularly due lack of space for outdoor space, as well as space for the targeted programming sought, and topography challenges.
Brian Kemp, a landscape architect for SLR, discussed the advantages and challenges of each of the sites.
Kemp described the existing senior center location as “non-viable.” He noted the building to be constructed would need to be multiple stories, to accommodate the health department’s space needs. The site also leaves little room for parking and “minimal outdoor amenity space.”
The existing health department building at 165 Miller St. also has challenges, starting with the site’s topography. Kemp described it as challenging in terms of parking as well, with a “moderate risk for hazardous materials,” based on the existing building’s age. Furthermore, during the project’s construction, the health department would need to be relocated, if this was the chosen site, Kemp explained.
Another proposed site, a 3.8-acre lot along Bee Street, was also determined by designers to be a less than ideal site because it is undersized, not owned by the city, and because it provides limited space for future expansion.
Meanwhile, the Cook Avenue site, at 5.6 acres, would support the target program. While the property is city owned, its main drawback is that the level of environmental remediation to rehabilitate the site is not yet determined.
Kemp noted the site can accommodate a one-story senior center and two-story health department, with room to accommodate parking needs and allow for expansion.
The site’s main challenges are the fact that the parcel is located within the floodplain and the brownfield remediation aspect, Kemp explained.
“I do feel like this is a very viable site,” he said.
The Westfield Road site, at 6.7 acres, is similarly suitable size wise, and offers a quiet location for the proposed facility’s outdoor programming. However, unlike the Cook Avenue property, the Westfield site is not city owned and it is less centrally located. The facility would also require some hazardous materials removal.
“We feel like this site also accommodates our target package for the senior center. One story senior center, gym. The health department on the second floor,” Kemp said, also noting the site offers “plenty of room for outdoor programs” and provides generally safe access.
Its main challenges are the fact that the city does not currently own the parcel, there will be some remediation work needed, and it’s “a less central location than some of the other options we have,” Kemp said.
Members of the public who addressed the design team and the Senior Center Building Review Committee seemed most in favor of the Westfield parcel as the site for a relocated senior center and health department.
Frank Cyphers said Westfield and Cook appear to be the most viable sites, and in his mind Wesfield “seems to be the best one.”
“You’d have a lot less problems a lot less cost remediating it,” Cyphers said. “...Cook Avenue is going to be so much more expensive than Westfield.”
Furthermore, Cyphers said he feels Westfield offers a “much more environmentally friendly” space.
Nancy Urban, another resident, agreed, adding she has safety and health concerns related to the Cook Avenue site.
Urban said if the city is going to invest in a new senior center, “I think we should make it count. Make it something very exciting, something that answers all our needs.”
Sean McDonald similarly recommended Westfield Road, saying he believes it fits what the city’s senior population needs. A concern he had about the Cook Avenue site is a state economic development grant to fund the remediation work. :
“The grant to take down the building is tied to economic development,” McDonald said.
Sharon Ingeno similarly stated she prefers Westfield.
“It’s beautiful. It’s hidden away from the traffic. When you go there, you feel relaxed. It’s like a little mini vacation,” Ingeno said, adding that type of setting could provide a meditative and relaxing setting. “It’s time for a different environment,” she said.
Resident Dan Zaborowski, who has long been outspoken about the need for a new senior center, spoke favorably of the Cook Avenue site.
The Cook Avenue site “is the only place,” he said, describing Westfield Road as “the worst road.” Meanwhile, he said, Cook Avenue has advantages, due to its proximity to the city’s downtown and apartments in areas like Crown Street.
Senior Center Building Review Committee members had questions and concerns of their own. Committee members will determine next week which site they prefer. That will pave the way for the design team to develop a detailed plan for the site, which the committee is expected to present to the City Council in early August.
City Councilor Bruce A. Fontanella, who chairs the committee, asked if the design team might be able to parse out the difference between the cost to acquire Westfield versus the cost of remediating Cook Avenue.
Chris Wante, the project manager, said the firm’s original plan was to narrow down to a preferred site and then develop cost estimates.
“The two sites are really close in viability, but really different in pros and cons,” Wante said.
Fontanella asked if Wante thought there will be a significant difference between the two sites in terms of demolition and acquisition costs. “Would that measure into a difference, millions of dollars, hundred of thousands of dollars,” Fontanella asked.
Wante responded, that it is “hard to say.” He believed the cost to demolish the former Westfield nursing home should be “fairly simple based on what we saw on site…. The challenge with the Cook Avenue site is going to be the environmental piece and not understanding the remediation we’re going to need. That’s always going to be a big question, with brownfield sites like that.”