Jail cells used for health department storage in Meriden

reporter photo

MERIDEN — As the city’s plans to build a new senior center progress, the panel tasked with developing those plans toured another facility Wednesday night: the Health & Human Services Department location on Miller Street.

In addition to developing a plan related to the Max E. Muravnick Meriden Senior Center, the Senior Center Building Review Committee was also tasked with reviewing the needs of the city’s Health & Human Services Department, to determine whether its offices and services also should be relocated. 

The department oversees the senior center, along with a number of other services, which include school-based health, vaccination clinics, youth services, environmental health, the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program, emergency preparedness, and several other programs.

The department’s administrators oversee all those tasks from its central location at 165 Miller St., which formerly housed the city’s police department. In fact, the former station’s old block of jail cells on the ground floor is now used for storage. That building, while centrally located within the city, has been particularly prone to flooding in recent years. The largest of those floods came in July 2021. It spurred the months-long relocation of several health department offices to the senior center building, while crews repaired the flood-damaged interior. 

When Health and Human Services Director Lea Crown took committee members on a tour of the Stoddard Municipal Building, she noted all of the services provided out of that building, from the vaccination clinics to the WIC program, to other youth services and environmental health programs. 

But the department’s present space has ongoing issues. Crown noted that even after the building’s first floor was repaired with new office space and walls following the 2021 flood, more repairs would soon be needed when subsequent flooding occurred. 

Those issues notwithstanding, Crown conveyed a desire to provide families with a one-stop shop under the same roof where they can register their children for school, and to receive all the medical clearances and vaccines they need in order to enter those programs. 

Given all the programs the department oversees that directly serve youth, a committee member asked Crown about whether it would be more conducive for her department to move into the Board of Education’s building on Liberty Street, should space be available. The health director responded by saying her preference is to ensure her department and the senior center are in close proximity. Crown used the example of senior affairs administrator Rick Liegl going on vacation to illustrate this point. 

“When Rick’s on vacation, I pack up my office and I work out of that office — because that building needs a supervisor,” Crown said. 

“When there is an emergency, we can just walk down the hallway. I don’t have to go across town. It’s more staff coverage,” Crown said, describing an ideal situation either being in the same building or in separate facilities that share the same parking lot. 

The committee followed its tour of the Stoddard Building with a meeting during which members discussed a recent tour of the Wallingford Senior Center, while discussing plans to tour a senior center facility in South Hadley, Massachusetts, that was designed by consultant EDM Studios, which is also the city’s consultant on its senior center project.

Liegl and committee chairman Bruce A. Fontanella, a city councilor, described the Wallingford visit. Both of them noted the wide open space, both indoor and outdoor, offered by the facility, and its unique layout — which is almost like a baseball diamond. The facility offers considerable dining, fitness and recreational amenities, with ample parking for senior center members who travel by car.

“It just had an overall feeling of being a welcoming space — very open, plenty of room and beautiful finishes on it,” Liegl said.

Fontanella noted the facility’s layout made it “a cozier space for people to interact rather than walking down this long empty hallway to get to some room activity.”

EDM Studios has conducted its own visits of the senior center and health department and has begun visiting sites that have been floated as possible new locations for the center and health department.

The consultant will soon be surveying residents to determine the city’s senior center programming needs and wants, explained Chris Wante, an associate principal and architect for EDM. Wante is the project manager for the Meriden senior center redesign.

Wante explained that the purpose of those visits is to get an understanding of how the spaces are used and to understand where each program wants to be in the future. Wante explained that out of those discussions and visits, his firm is in the process of developing what he called a program document that will serve as the foundation for the senior center’s design.

That effort runs parallel with a public outreach effort the firm is also going to launch next month. That outreach effort will include public surveys and focus groups with different cohorts of current senior center members. The firm plans to maintain a general presence in the senior center during that time and to report its findings back to the building committee at its May meeting.

“We’ll have summaries of all those things, and hopefully the goal would be to have a recommendation on, ‘this is the site that we think we should go with. This is how big we think the building should be. And this is how much parking we think we need,’” Wante said.

The timeline he floated suggested a conceptual design should be ready by the beginning of August, which is the timeline that city officials previously determined for when a proposal would be presented to the City Council for approval.



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