By Max Bowenfirstname.lastname@example.org
Town officials are continuing the discussion to see if a portion of the Emerald Square Mall could one day be the new home for the Senior Center.
At the July 21 meeting of the Council on Aging, Town Manager Michael Borg said the potential space is 14,000 square feet and on the third floor, with access to parking. He said the new owner of the mall, Chicago-based JLL, is moving commercial retail vendors from the third floor to the first. The goal would be to dedicate the third floor to businesses such as the dental office already there.
Borg said he’ll be meeting with the mall owners to go over the cost of renovating the space, which would likely be paid for through the Capital Improvement Stabilization Fund. The Allen Avenue School was looked at as a potential site for the seniors, but the cost of renovations exceed $5 million.
“We don’t have that kind of money,” said Borg. “The constraints are if we can build it at an acceptable price.”
When asked about customization of the existing space, Borg said the goal would be a make a “world class facility” that would meet all the seniors’ needs. This would include a meeting room, exercise room, with kitchens and bathrooms. He added that a meeting room could be used in the evening for Town Council or department head meetings.
“Tax dollars pay for it, so we’d need to be judicious,” he said. “I wish we had all the money in the world, but we don’t.”
Council on Aging Director Pam Hunt said the mall could benefit from the seniors being there.
“Going forward, it would be a draw to be at the mall,” she said.
Borg first voiced the option of moving the Senior Center to the mall in late April. Hunt has previously said that the search for a new home for the Senior Center has been ongoing for five years. The Howard Estate—where the center is located—lacks space to host large crowds, and the largest room can only fit 30.
“It’s the first time someone said, ‘let’s look at options,’” said Hunt in April. “I feel that’s a good thing for the COA.”
The most significant concern is what will happen to the mall, now in receivership and expected to be sold. Borg is meeting with Town Counsel to work on a contract that would offer assurances in case the mall became a warehouse or other use that would make a Senior Center impossible.
A long-term goal is to construct a standalone Senior Center, though this would cost $25-30 million. The town is also exploring options for a new fire station to replace the existing 100-year-old building. The schools have submitted Statements of Interest to the Massachusetts School Building Authority to either renovate the high school or build a new elementary school.
Borg said that if the seniors moved to the mall, they’d need to remain there for 5-10 years, as it would take time to secure a location and funding for a standalone building.
“We’d prefer (the Senior Center) to stay here if it turned out the building would come down soon,” said Borg. “We don’t want to jeopardize what we have now, because it’s very solid.”
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.