Supporters of a new senior center in Marlborough are celebrating a City Council vote on Monday that approved funding for the building, and are already pushing ahead with construction plans.
“It’s just amazing, to sit back and think what it’s going to be like to walk into a building that’s strictly for seniors, and have adequate parking, and have beautiful green space around you,” said Jennifer Claro, executive director of the city’s Council on Aging. “It’s kind of mind-boggling.”
Meanwhile, opponents say they’re not done fighting.
The City Council voted 10-1 Monday to approve $6.5 million in borrowing for a 22,000-square-foot center to be built at Ward Park, over the objections of some neighbors who are against taking recreation property for a municipal building. The council also approved $3 million in borrowing for improvements to the park itself. On Tuesday, the city awarded a $6.3 million construction contract to Waltham-based CTA Construction.
City officials will determine a timeline for the project with the construction company.
But members of the Ward Park Neighborhood Association haven’t conceded defeat, said Paul Brodeur, a member of the group, which was formed to oppose building the senior center at the park.
“We’re in this for the long haul,” Bordeur said. He said group members have raised more than $2,000 toward a potential legal fight, and the association will reach out to open-space advocates around the state for support.
The council vote was a boon for Mayor Arthur Vigeant, who has been pushing for a new senior center since the 2011 campaign that brought him into office. Vigeant ran unopposed in Tuesday’s election for a second two-year term.
“I think it’s going to be a fantastic facility that the city and the neighbors and the seniors can be proud of,” Vigeant said. “It’s something we’ve been talking about as a city for more than 10 years.”
Currently, the Council on Aging uses around 8,100 square feet of space on the first floor of a senior housing facility on Main Street for its offices and programs.
Claro said a lack of room requires some programs to be held elsewhere, and noted that there are only a few designated parking spots for the center, with most visitors having to park on the road or in a municipal lot.
“It’s very difficult for our seniors who have some mobility issues,” Claro said.
The new center will have a 72-space parking lot, Claro said, along with dedicated space for a fitness center, a library, and a computer room — amenities that the current space lacks.
The $3 million in park improvements will go toward infrastructure needs like drainage, the addition of new features like a walking path, and refurbishing existing facilities like basketball and tennis courts, a multisport playing field, and a track.
Matt Elder, a City Council member from Ward 3, said that one benefit of locating the new senior center in the park is that classes can be held outdoors as well as in the building. He said seniors might want to sign up for gardening classes in the park, or an exercise class on the new walking path.
“It opens us up to all sorts of program capabilities that you wouldn’t have at a regular brick-and-mortar building,” he said.
“When it’s all said and done, I think the neighbors are going to love the new park that we give them,” Elder added. “When everything settles down, I think most people are going to realize this is going to be a good thing for the city.
“When there’s a beautiful building, and the park is completely redone with all the improvements, I hope the neighbors take a step back, and hopefully they’ll like it.”
But members of the neighborhood group contend that the park land is protected by state law, and can’t be used for anything other than recreation without approval from the state.
Vigeant said the city solicitor and a third-party consultant have both given the project a green light, and the state attorney general’s office gave a “verbal assurance” that there were no legal problems with it.
The mayor added that he is “absolutely” confident the project is on firm legal ground.
Calvin Hennick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org