Newton is continuing its search for the home for a proposed new senior center, after public opposition led officials to back off a proposal to use part of a Newtonville playfield as a site for the facility.
Instead, officials working on the proposed Newton Center for Active Living, or NewCAL, have drawn up a list of seven potential sites that include existing buildings and a public parking lot.
And yes, included on that list is the existing Newton Senior Center on Walnut Street in Newtonville.
No longer being considered: Albemarle Field in Newtonville. City officials heard from community members that they support a new facility for seniors, but not at the cost of using some of Newton’s limited open space, Mayor Ruthanne Fuller said.
“Lots of people in Newton are very excited about NewCAL, and believe in adding a community center of the right size and in the right condition, but losing any portion of our special parks and recreation areas is too uncomfortable,” Fuller said.
Fuller has long argued for a new facility to serve seniors; Newton has the fifth-highest senior population in Massachusetts, and a third of city’s population is expected to be age 60 or older by 2030, she has said. The current proposal for NewCAL focuses on seniors, but the facility would also serve other residents as a community center.
The existing senior center was built as a library before being repurposed as the senior center in 1993; the design limits the programs and services which can be offered there.
Fuller said officials, residents, and local businesses will decide together which site “gets a really closer, harder look.”
Aside from the existing senior center, the other properties being considered are the Newton Centre Triangle parking lot; police headquarters in West Newton; the Education Center on Walnut Street; the West Newton Armory; and the former Aquinas College facility on Jackson Road. Another option being considered is a partnership with the West Suburban YMCA on Church Street.
“What the working group has been trying to do is give as many options to people [as possible], to evaluate and give feedback, so people feel like they have a role in the process,” said John Rice, a former Ward 5 city councilor who is a member of the NewCAL project’s working group.
Two of the proposed NewCAL sites — the armory and the former Aquinas campus — already figure prominently in separate plans for affordable housing and educational use.
Fuller has prioritized finding a way to turn the former armory into an affordable housing development, and the city recently announced it received a $200,000 grant to study how the building could be converted to residential use.
Aquinas, which the city agreed to purchase in 2015, is the current home of the Newton Early Childhood Program, and is being eyed as the future Lincoln-Eliot Elementary School, according to the school department.
Aside from the police headquarters and existing senior center, the remaining public facilities are the Newton Centre Triangle lot, which is about 1 ¾ acres at Beacon, Langley, and Centre streets; and the Education Center, which serves as the home to the school district’s administrative offices, information technology, and programs including an alternative high school.
Jack Fucci, the president and chief executive of the West Suburban YMCA, said the organization has had informal discussions with the city about its role in serving local seniors. The West Suburban YMCA has been working in Newton since 1877, and has been in its present location since 1912, he said.
“As we continue to grow, we are just happy to be seen as a partner to the senior center, and in supporting active older adults in the community,” Fucci said.
The search for a new home for the city’s senior center — launched shortly after Fuller took office in 2018 — has grown into something of a game of musical chairs.
It hasn’t been for a lack of trying: Originally, the city compiled a list of nearly 150 public and privately owned properties, which officials eventually whittled down to 24 prospects, which were again narrowed to a half-dozen properties — all playgrounds and parks — by last summer.
At the top of the list was Albemarle Field in Newtonville, where officials considered placing a two- or three-story center at the present Gath Pool, and include a new pool in the design.
But opposition to that proposal grew and by September, Fuller said the city would revisit other options for the project.
Cedar Pruitt, a founder of Preserve Newton Parks, a group that helped organize opposition to using Albemarle, said she hopes the city’s pivot away from seeking open space for NewCAL “heralds a commitment to parks and open space all across Newton.”
“We as a city need to care about our parks enough to keep them... we don’t want Newton parks to become building space,” Pruitt said. “The green space makes this the Garden City. It’s a wake up call for us to know we need to advocate in the future.”
John Hilliard can be reached at email@example.com