Needham Breaks Ground on New Senior Center
State and local officials, volunteers, seniors and others from around town gathered on May 3 for a ceremony marking the start of a long anticipated construction project.
A little rain and mud didn’t keep people from coming to see the first ceremonial shovel of soil lifted on the site of the Senior Center Thursday morning.
More than 50 people—including state officials, selectmen, Senior Center staff and members of the Council on Aging Board, Friends of the Needham Elderly and the former Needham Senior Center Exploratory Committee—stood on the edge of the former MBTA lot at the corner of Hillside Avenue and West Street at 9 a.m. to celebrate the start of a construction project that has been about 20 years in the making.
“I think it’s a wonderful testimony to how excited everyone is, to see how many people showed up on a very nasty day and how many people walked over, and that people took time out of their day,” said Jamie Brenner Gutner, executive director of the Needham Council on Aging.
A group of seniors met at the current Stephen Palmer Senior Center on Pickering Street and walked the nearly one-mile distance to the new site for the ceremony.
Funding for the $8,575,000 project was approved at the November 2011 special Town Meeting, and work on the site began in mid-April when a fence was placed around the property and MBTA parking was moved to the south side of the lot, temporarily. Holliston-based Colantonio Inc. has been hired as the general contractor.
The new 20,000-square-foot senior center will feature a large multipurpose area on the ground floor with seating for 250 (150 for sit-down dinners), as well as program and meeting spaces, a fitness room, art room, library, offices and open-air green roof deck on the second level. It is slated for completion by fall 2013.
State Representative Denise Garlick, a Needham resident and former selectman, was among the team of people who lifted the first shovelful of earth to mark the official start of the construction, although actual work began a few weeks ago with the tearing-up off asphalt and leveling of the site.
“As I look out at this crowd, I see all the faces of the people who have worked so long for so hard to help make this happen. I see people who have written letters and who attended meetings and who are currently helping with some fundraising, and it’s all of us who have made it possible,” Garlick said.
“Today, what we have is proof positive that Needham has kept its promise to its seniors and all those that love them,” she continued, to cheers and applause from those gathered.
State Senator Richard Ross read a proclamation congratulating the town and the Council on Aging on the new project.
“In the past three years that I have represented Needham, I have grown very fond of Needham,” Ross said, calling the town “a wonderful community through the broad spectrum—for any chapter of life that somebody happens to be in" and a place where he could see himself retiring.
George Kent, chairman of the town’s Permanent Public Building Committee, commented on the importance of the day before handing out shovels for the official groundbreaking.
“This is truly an exciting day. When you look back at the picture here [a rendering of the new senior center] and think that next fall we’ll be opening this building, that’s really exciting to me,” he said, promising to complete the town’s latest construction project “on time and under budget, as we usually do.”
Following the ceremony, several officials shared their thoughts on the momentous occasion.
“It means the beginning of the fruition of a project that has been a long time coming,” said Jerry Wasserman, chairman of the Board of Selectmen. “We’ve answered a lot of the questions that were raised, and now it’s time to just build it. Our seniors are one of the fastest growing parts of our population, and this means that we will have a building to house the essential services for our seniors.”
Town Manager Kate Fitzpatrick said it was the culmination of “a lot of hard work by a lot of people.”
“I think it’s very exciting that, once we found a place, everybody came together,” she said. “It’s a great partnership with the MBTA, and it’s going to be this wonderful part of what’s already being revitalized in Needham Heights, which is very exciting.”
Council on Aging Board chairwoman Susanne Hughes also had the opportunity to lift one of the ceremonial shovels, which she called “absolutely a thrill.”
“People say it’s been 10 plus years—I say 20 years—that we’ve been looking to get a space that would really serve the needs of Needham elders and their families,” Hughes said. “It’s a tremendous opportunity and a thrilling opportunity to be here today.”