There’s good news and bad news for seniors in Holbrook.
Town leaders are looking into an expanded center to replace the seniors’ currently cramped quarters on Jewel Road, and there’s an opportunity to take over an old schoolhouse that would provide ample space for programs.
But as they say in real estate, location is everything: The old Lincoln School sits at one of Holbrook’s busiest intersections, at the corner of Weymouth and Plymouth streets, and that is a source of concern among seniors.
“One of the biggest obstacles would be trying to get in and out of there,” said Robert Matson, chairman of the Holbrook Council on Aging. “It would give us a lot of places to have different things going on and the idea of a bigger building is good, but one of the biggest obstacles is the location. We have raised our objections to it.”
The Lincoln School, built in 1839, sits on a third of an acre. It served as a school into the 1960s and was then converted to office space for school administrators. That use was discontinued a few years ago, and the building then sat vacant. Selectmen tried to sell the property last year, but received a single offer too low to accept, Town Administrator William Phelan said.
Selectmen have since set priorities for the town, which include securing a larger senior center. The town has a population of about 11,000, 2,200 of whom are 60 or older, according to Council on Aging coordinator Connie Orlando, who says baby boomers will continue to swell the senior population in coming years.
The Lincoln School building would offer about 2,500 square feet of space compared with the present senior center’s 1,200. The current quarters offer no privacy and are so cramped that activities such as exercise classes are virtually impossible, in-house lunches can’t be offered, and meals-on-wheels must be prepared at a local church hall.
Holbrook officials are preparing an application for a community development block grant that could provide between $400,000 and $800,000 to overhaul the Lincoln School building and to fund other local projects, according to Phelan.
Council on Aging member Raymond Molling said the school building could meet the town’s need for a larger senior center, but only if something were done to make the facility more easily accessible.
“It would make a good senior center with renovation, but without a traffic light at that intersection, we shouldn’t make the move, I don’t think,” said Molling, who toured the building with other council members recently.
Calling the effort toward a larger center “a good initiative and one that’s overdue,” Phelan agreed the Lincoln School’s location presents a challenge.
“We’d love to have the Lincoln School building in the location of the current senior center, ideally,” he said. “And just because the school is available doesn’t mean that will be the location. We’re meeting with the elders’ board and making sure their voice is heard every step of the way.”
Traffic improvements would be considered as part of the project “if it’s determined that’s the location people want,” Phelan added.
After listening to the Council on Aging’s concerns about the Lincoln School’s location, selectmen asked TBA Architects, which was already producing a conceptual plan for renovation of the school, to produce a second plan that would expand the current center on Jewel Road.
The drawings have been completed and will be presented to the Council on Aging within the next couple weeks, Phelan said.
Meanwhile, the February deadline to apply for community development block grant funding this year is fast approaching, and the deliberations over the center’s location may make it hard to meet.
“It’s a tight timeframe,” Phelan said, adding the town must have definitive plans along with cost estimates to qualify for grant funding. Those won’t be done until a target location has been settled on. “We hope to get it done for funding this year, but a lot depends on the next meeting with elder services,” he said.
Orlando called the Lincoln School the far better option, despite the reservations expressed by Council on Aging members.
“I am not in favor of adding on to the current building,” she said. “There’s only one driveway in, and if there are cars coming and going, someone has to back out to let the other car by. No matter how they do the expansion, the driveway can’t be made wider. Traffic is a problem at the Lincoln School, but it’s a problem here, too.”
While an exit could be made through the public library lot adjacent to the current center, Orlando said it would come out on Plymouth Street, again into heavy traffic.
She said while change can sometimes be uncomfortable, a move to the Lincoln School would be a change for the better, since it would allow for many more opportunities for local seniors.
“When we were moving to this place, there was a lot of negativity, too,” Orlando said. “We have to change. The population is changing, and getting out keeps people younger.”