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Newton City Council approves funding to replace senior center with larger facility

A rendering of the Newton Center for Active Living, which would replace the Newton Senior Center at 345 Walnut St. in Newtonville.COURTESY CITY OF NEWTON

The Newton City Council voted Monday night to fund the proposed Newton Center for Active Living, which will replace the existing senior center in Newtonville with a new, larger facility.

In a pair of votes, councilors allowed the city to move ahead with the $19.5 million project at 345 Walnut St. and break ground on the roughly 33,000-square-foot facility as soon as next year.

“Together, we will open this inclusive, welcoming, and universally accessible facility in 2024,” Mayor Ruthanne Fuller said in a statement Monday night.

The project will mean the demolition of the existing 11,000-square-foot building, which was originally erected in the 1930s as the Newtonville branch of the public library. It was converted into the senior center in 1993.

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City Council President Susan Albright, who backed both measures, hailed the outcome of Monday’s votes in remarks to her colleagues.

“The senior center is officially approved now by the City Council, and the site plan review and funding is a done deal,” Albright said after the vote. ”And we are all looking forward to a new senior center.”

Councilors voted 21-0, with three members absent, to approve funding for the project, according to Ellen Ishkanian, a spokeswoman for Fuller.

In a separate action, councilors approved the project’s site plan by a vote of 20 to 1, Ishkanian said. Ward 3 Councilor Julia Malakie cast the sole vote against the site plan, according to Ishkanian.

Albright said the three absent councilors Monday were Alicia Bowman, Bill Humphrey, and John Oliver.

City councilors also authorized the purchase of 47 Walnut Place, a property abutting the current senior center, according to Albright. Fuller has said the city has reached an agreement with the family that owns the land to purchase it using $1.5 million in federal pandemic relief money.

The current senior center building is on the National Register of Historic Places. It is the subject of a lawsuit filed in May by Neighbors for a Better Newtonville, which sought to preserve the building and prevent the city from funding the project. That case remains pending in Middlesex Superior Court.

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In a statement last month, Fred Arnstein, the group’s president, said: “Allowing demolition of this building would set a dangerous precedent. We will continue to oppose the City’s willingness to sacrifice our parks and historic buildings.”

Fuller, who called for a “top-notch” senior center during her first term inaugural address in January 2018, said in a statement Monday night that the vote allows “us to move forward with speed and care to create an exceptional new facility with programs and services for our older residents and the community at large, starting in 2024 and for generations to come.”

She said the name of the project — which has been called by the moniker NewCAL for the past several years — was never intended to be the center’s permanent name. She asked residents to offer their own ideas for what the new building should be called.

Fuller repeated her nomination for naming the new center after Audrey Cooper, who served as secretary at the Underwood Elementary School for nearly three decades, led the Newton Free Library’s board of trustees, and co-led the committee that established the Newton Senior Center at its present location in Newtonville.

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The next community meeting for the senior center project is scheduled for Thursday, Aug. 18, at 6:30 p.m., according to the project website, newcal.projects.nv5.com.


John Hilliard can be reached at john.hilliard@globe.com.