After much number crunching, Needham officials believe the town can afford a new, larger senior center, without an override, and selectmen are setting up an exploratory committee to figure out how to make it happen.
Among neigbboring towns, Randolph and Milton have free-standing senior facilities, Canton shares share space in senior housing facilities and Walpole's Senior Center is attached to the town's municipal building, officials said. Dedham voters this summer rejected a tax hike for a senior center, but some residents still want one.
Needham wants to join the crowd. “I think a senior center is a must have for a community,” said Selectman John Bulian.
The existing center in Needham, considered too small at 6,000 square feet, is located in the basement of the Stephen Palmer building on Pickering Street.
For more than a decade some townspeople and officials have looked for alternatives to the crowded space, which has also had flooding problems. But there has never been a consensus on the right location, and other municipal needs -- like emergency repairs to the Newman School's failing heat and ventilation system -- have overshadowed plans for a new senior center.
Recommending a location will be one of the top priorities of the new committee.
Bulian said he sees two possible sites worth exploring: Ridge Hill, which was previously proposed, and Green’s Field in downtown.
Green’s Field is a 4.5-acre, town-owned, parcel between Great Plain Avenue and May Street. The field is used for Little League and soccer. Bulian said the area where a play structure now stands could be used for the senior center. The play structure is in bad shape and needs to come down anyway, he said, and could be replaced with something new elsewhere.
The Senior Center Exploratory Committee will likely be established this month, according to Town Manager Kate Fitzpatrick, and a project could go before Town Meeting in about a year.
-- Lisa Kocian