Reading Senior Center

READING SENIOR CENTER

READING – Wednesday’s second meeting of the Reading Center for Active Living Committee (ReCalc) produced a broad discussion of the group’s goals. It also included one thing everyone could agree on. The Pleasant Street Center must go.

“The main thing is, just get out of that building as fast as we can,” said John Parsons, representing the Council on Aging on the seven-member ad hoc committee. “It just doesn’t have enough room. If you have somebody with a wheelchair who wants to use a restroom, they have to get themselves onto an elevator, either to go to the basement or go to the second floor. The building just doesn’t cut it at all.”

The charge of the committee as stated on the town website is to explore the current and future needs of the community, and initiate planning for a potential new Senior/Community Center in town that will focus on residents aged 60+ and possibly other members of the community.

But that charge has already led to a potential defection. At-large member Elizabeth Walsh has said she intends to resign from ReCalc because there isn’t enough of a focus on housing, and because she isn’t interested in a planned survey.

“I don’t think this thing is for me,” said Mark Dockser in describing her thoughts during a recent discussion.

But committee chair John O’Neill isn’t giving up on her participation and plans to make a pitch for her to stay.

“I think she has a lot to offer,” said O’Neill. “She has some really valuable information for the group.”

While members understood her sentiments, the interest in senior housing caused concerns.

“I’m not suggesting that it isn’t important, but it’s a much broader issue that is well beyond the scope of this particular committee,” said at-large member John Sasso.

“The charter here, is there are two things. One is to understand the needs and related to the needs are programs, activities, generational aspects, things like that. That’s part one,” said Dockser. “And part two relates to facilities. What types of facilities would we recommend in order to best work with those needs? And facilities is broader than just a building.”

“It does seem like there are two parts to what were being asked to figure out,” said Mike Coltman. “I think that the purpose of the committee was to really think about the physical building and what other facilities in town are really important to a Center for Aging and community.”

The Pleasant Street Center was designed by Horace Wadlin and opened in 1883 as a fire and police station. When the police department relocated it became the home of the fire department for 90 years. In March 1993 it was renovated and re-dedicated as the Senior Center. All this is another way of saying it’s very, very old.

Community Services Director Kevin Bohmiller showed members what other communities had. It started with a picture of an inviting room with couches, chairs and a fireplace. He called it a beautiful, warm, welcoming space, “a place for people to gather, have a cup of coffee, and just chat.”

He said that with the current space, “we’re actually telling people, don’t show up early because we don’t have any place for you to sit.”

Next, he showed a facility that has a real exercise room.

“Right now, people are exercising on hard concrete,” said Bohmiller. “The same place that the fire trucks parked, 140 years ago. I wouldn’t want to exercise on the tile at the Pleasant Street Center.”

He continued with photos of another center’s office space, another center’s kitchen, all to show what Reading is missing. He went on to talk about private meeting space, a dedicated area for hairdressing and other self-care services, and a game room.

Bohmiller said the Pleasant Street Center currently is averaging 22 people a day coming in. Before Covid, that number was more than 50 per day. With Reading’s senior population growing, the committee acknowledged a more active and demanding senior population was in Reading’s future.

While the focus is on seniors, the goal is to produce a dual use facility that would potentially cater to senior activities during the day, younger age groups at night. Sasso talked about removing the stigma of “the senior center” and catering to a broader group in the community.

Location was another discussion point. If not Pleasant Street, then where? Should a new facility be near downtown? ReCalc hopes to hold a joint meeting with the Council on Aging at the end of January to discuss both needs and potential locations. And soon ReCalc will have professional help in the efforts.

Town Meeting appropriated $40,000 in FY22 for the purpose of Senior/Community Center planning. A consultant will be hired with these funds to provide technical assistance and expertise in Community Resource Planning and Community Engagement. Assistant Town Manager Jean Delios told the committee that the advertisement to hire the consultant will be posted next week with a Jan. 24 deadline to apply.

ReCalc meets again Jan. 12.

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