By Michael Gagne, Record-Journal staff
MERIDEN — The Senior Center Building Review Committee has carved out a revised timeline for developing plans to relocate the city’s senior center and health department offices, with the committee slated to formally vote on its recommendation when it meets Aug. 28.
The committee is expected to choose either 116 Cook Ave. or 65 Westfield Road as the site for a new senior center and health and human services department. The city-owned Cook Avenue property houses a former factory building that was converted into medical offices. The vacant building was damaged by fire in 2022 and is slated for demolition. The Westfield Road site houses the vacant former Westfield Care & Rehab facility.
Architecture firm EDM is developing plans for both sites and is scheduled to update the committee on its progress during the committee’s next meeting on July 19.
After the committee votes on its recommended site in August it is scheduled to present those recommendations to the City Council as a whole at the council’s Sept. 5 meeting.
City Councilor Bruce A. Fontanella, who chairs the Senior Center Building Review Committee, explained EDM will make its final presentation on Aug. 28 analyzing the potential costs associated with constructing a senior center and health department facility on each of the sites.
In May, representatives from EDM discussed their findings regarding the features sought by Meriden community members. The proposed facility would need at least 25,000 square feet for what designers described as its core program space, including dining, activities and meeting rooms and other features. Additional indoor amenities, including a gym or walking track, could be added at an additional 8,000 square feet.
Residents also seek outdoor amenities, including a walking trail, social gathering and gardening areas and the possible addition of outdoor athletic courts. The health department itself would need a space of around 15,000 square feet.
Designers determined both the Cook Avenue parcel at 5.6 acres and the Westfield Road parcel at 6.7 acres are large enough to support the senior center and health department relocation. Financial estimates for either proposal have not yet been provided.
Pros, cons, cost
How much environmental remediation is needed to address the brownfield contamination on the Cook Avenue site is a question for which city leaders will receive an answer later this summer.
Cook Avenue’s advantages are that the site is currently city owned and it is centrally located. The Westfield site, located less than two miles northeast of the Cook Avenue plot, would need to be purchased from its current owners, and is less centrally located. The space would require some removal of hazardous materials, but it does offer what consultants described as a quiet and safe location for outdoor programming.
Fontanella floated the possibility that the committee may need to discuss EDM’s cost analysis and make a site selection during the course of two meetings in August.
Fontanella described the potential environmental concerns as a “red herring to a certain extent.”
If project plans call for the construction of a building on a capped area of the Cook Avenue site, then environmental engineers Fuss & O’Neill will identify the extent to which remediation will need to be factored into the project cost, Fontanella explained.
Previous concerns about 116 Cook Ave. being located within the city’s flood plain are less of a concern as a result of the ongoing Harbor Brook flood control project.
Fontanella said he’s not leaning toward a specific location yet.
“I’m really going to be interested in a cost analysis,” Fontanella said. “I think that is going to be a factor — if there is a significant cost to develop the site.”
City Councilor Ray Ouellet also sits on the Senior Center Review Committee. Ouellet said while he is intrigued by the possibility of locating the next senior center building in a “park-like facility” like the Westfield site, he is concerned about removing a property from the city’s tax rolls. He said both properties have their pros and cons.
The Cook Avenue site “needs to be cleaned up and that’s a great starting point to get that area cleaned up,” Ouellet said. “… But Westfield, it has been said that when you put a senior center in a park-like setting, more people come. And I think that was the piece I was intrigued by.
“I’m kind of up in the air,” Ouellet said, adding that he does not want to see a property, like Westfield, come off of the city’s tax rolls.
During the committee’s June 21 meeting, Tim Eagles, a principal for EDM, explained that the plans for Cook Avenue and Westfield Road will be assembled differently, because the sites themselves are different.
Eagles referenced the Cook Avenue site, when he said his firm will work with Fuss & O’Neill’s analysis and use what he called “an idealized layout” to determine how to best utilize the site.
“Then we’re going to overlay that with what they know about the site — what’s cleaner, not as clean, what we would want to stay out of to make those things work,” Eagles said.
Fontanella followed Eagles with a series of questions directed to him and to City Manager Timothy Coon. He asked whether the council has the option to choose the committee’s recommended site or to vote on the other option.
Coon said the council can adopt either plan.
“This process is to provide information to the council,” Coon said, adding there is no need for the council to take immediate action upon hearing the committee’s recommendation on Sept. 5.
“It might be appropriate for the council to take a look at funding sources as those become more understood months later,” Coon said.