By Max Bowenfirstname.lastname@example.org
With the Emerald Square Mall nearly half-empty, there’s a lot of open space available, and Town Manager Michael Borg has at least one use in mind.
At the April 26 hybrid Town Council meeting, Borg outlined a proposal to move the town’s Senior Center to the mall. In receivership since late last year, the future of the mall is still unknown. Borg suggested that it would be a great location with better parking for seniors. It should be noted that the town is exploring other options, and no final decision has been made.
“We can vet it out with the Council on Aging,” said Borg. “We need to see if it’s a good fit.”
Prior to the pandemic, the Senior Center at 204 Elm St. was the location for a number of programs and activities. This included a weekly yoga class, music programs, lunches, holiday celebrations, and educational classes. Much of the programs have switched to an online format, although outdoor exercise classes have resumed in a tent outside the Senior Center.
The building in which the Senior Center is housed is the Howard Estate, built around 1864. Dr. Allen and Elizabeth Howard were the next family to own the mansion following the Richards family, who donated the building that would become the Richards Memorial Library.
In August 1975, the North Attleborough Housing Authority purchased approximately 112 acres of the estate property. The mansion was restored and refurbished as part of an overall grant from the Massachusetts Department of Community Affairs, which also included the construction of 72 elderly housing units behind the mansion.
The house has been the town’s Senior Center since 1975 and is leased by the town. That lease is set to expire in two years.
Council on Aging Director Pamela Hunt said that the search for a new home for the Senior Center has been ongoing for around five years. The Howard Estate lacks enough space to host large crowds, and the biggest room can only fit 30. One potential solution to the space issue is renting a modular classroom. Hunt credited Borg for his work on this matter.
“It’s the first time someone said, ‘let’s look at options,’” said Hunt. “I feel that’s a good thing for the COA.”
Hunt said two different locations on the third floor of the mall have been examined—one of which is a single storefront and the second being five smaller ones that can be converted into one. She said that one of the storefronts is right next to a covered garage, which would be ideal.
“Right now we’re just exploring our options,” said Hunt.
Opened in 1989, the Emerald Square Mall has a little over 1 million square feet of retail space across three floors. The mall is anchored by a JC Penny and two Macy’s. Sears also had a three-floor location, but this closed in mid-April.
Town Council President Keith Lapointe saw this proposal as a “goldmine” for the seniors, especially the JabberWalkers, which meets twice a week to walk at locations in North Attleborough and surrounding towns. Council Vice President Justin Pare had some reservations, especially considering that it’s not been determined what will happen to the property.
“If ownership were to change hands, would we need to close that down?” asked Pare. “We’re leveraging the mall for a government function like that.”
Borg said that this has been considered, but no decision has been made. In past meetings, he’s stressed the need for North Attleborough to have a seat at the table concerning the mall’s future.
“We will look at the risks and the benefits and make the best decision we can,” said Borg.