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Senior Center work delayed

 A tai chi lesson was filled with participants last year at the Acton Senior Center, where renovations have been placed on hold in part to avoid reducing space for exercise classes.

PAT GREENHOUSE/GLOBE STAFF/FILE 2011

A tai chi lesson was filled with participants last year at the Acton Senior Center, where renovations have been placed on hold in part to avoid reducing space for exercise classes.

Renovations to improve safety at the Acton Senior Center have been put on hold after some seniors raised concerns about how the work would interfere with the center’s most popular programs.

The work was set to begin this month, but now the town is conducting a space-needs study to see whether there is a way to make changes without as many disruptions to exercise classes.

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“We’re just sitting back to see if another set of eyes could come up with a plan to address the issues that we have,’’ said Sharon Mercurio, the facility’s director.

Mercurio said she and the Council on Aging board recommended some improvements to the center after Town Meeting turned down a feasibility study for a new building in April.

Mercurio said the setup of the building on Audubon Drive is confusing, not welcoming, and potentially dangerous. She said there is no space for staff members at the front of the building so they are far removed from activities. She said there have been some medical issues in the parking lot, visitors have gotten lost in the building, and some solicitors have entered unnoticed.

She said changes had been proposed so staff could be more available to welcome visitors, improve visibility at the front of the building for safety and security, increase quiet classroom space, and provide private space for health clinics.

However, Mercurio said, many seniors weren’t happy with the proposed changes because the space available for exercise programs would have been scaled back.

“People live for their exercise class and that was upsetting for folks,’’ Mercurio said.

As a result, she said, town officials decided to put the renovations on hold and look for other options. She said it turned out the town is conducting a space-needs study for other offices, so the senior center will be included in that review.

“We were in the process of negotiating a contract so the timing was pretty good,’’ said Dean Charter, who oversees municipal properties for the town.

Charter said an architect will prepare a report for the town by the end of February that will look at the space needs for public works, cemetery staff, some Town Hall offices, the Recreation Department, the West Acton Citizens’ Library and now the senior center.

For the senior center, Charter said, the architect will look at the most immediate space needs and determine whether, and how, they could be met in the existing building.

Charter said the problem is that the building is too small for its needs, but the Council on Aging has to make do, after Town Meeting voted against a new center.

“The space needs are focused on what we can do for the short term,’’ Charter said.

Charlie Aaronson, the vice chairman of the Council on Aging, said he hopes the architect can come up with some short-term solutions to address safety concerns while the town considers a long-term solution.

He said the vote against a new senior center didn’t change the fact that the big problems still exist. He said the Council on Aging came up with a reasonable plan to address them, but it was not communicated well to local seniors.

Aaronson said many residents would like a new center but are worried about the cost.

“The seniors are threatened by the impact on their taxes, so they are caught in a dilemma.’’

Jennifer Fenn Lefferts can be reached at jflefferts@yahoo.com.
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