NEWBURYPORT — The city has abandoned plans to convert the Bresnahan Elementary School into a community and senior center, and will instead be asking voters this spring to approve funding for constructing a new center on the site.
Mayor Donna Holaday had been pursuing a plan that would have seen the current Bresnahan School turned into a community center if voters approve building a new elementary school.
That plan called for demolishing part of the Bresnahan, and reducing it from about 50,000 square feet to about 24,000 square feet.
But upon further examination, the mayor has determined such a conversion is not feasible.
"As we looked at all that had to be done, the cost estimates kept going up," Holaday said last week. "So we are moving forward with a plan for a new center."
The cost of building a new facility is estimated to be about $6.3 million. The conversion was initially estimated at about $3.7 million, but rising costs would have put the project at $7 million to $8 million, according to city officials.
Municipal leaders say that the new senior-community center can't be built without voters also approving the new Bresnahan School project.
On June 5, voters will decide on the new Bresnahan School, the senior-community center as well as renovations to the Nock-Molin complex.
If approved, students will remain in the existing Bresnahan School until construction of the new school building on adjacent land is complete by 2014, which would then allow the center to be built.
"I am pleased with the plans for the proposed senior center," said City Councilor Ed Cameron, who has been a member of a municipal committee charged with studying the senior and community center issue. He is also chairman of the city's Budget and Finance Committee.
"We did due diligence on the idea to convert the Bresnahan, but found it was too expensive," he said. "Our city needs one center so that it can provide a decent level of services to our elderly."
City officials recently made public an architectural rendering of the proposed senior-community center.
Plans call for the design and construction of a 16,000-square-foot, two-story, wood-framed facility on the site of the current Bresnahan School building.
The center will include a 1,600-square-foot multipurpose function room that will be available not only to seniors but also to the broader community.
In addition, it will include 2,400 square feet of space for a social service agency tenant, which will help subsidize the annual operational costs of the facility, or provide available expansion area for the senior-community center in the future.
City officials say the advantages of the site include the following: The land is already owned by the city, there is ample space for parking and outdoor activity, and it has potential space for future growth.
According to municipal figures, there are about 3,100 people in Newburyport over age 65, with more than 4,000 over age 60. Council on Aging Director Roseann Robillard was not available for comment.
Currently, services for Newburyport's seniors are based in rented space at the Salvation Army on Water Street, and various services are scattered throughout the community at the public library, the hospital, various churches, the Elks Club, Atria Merrimack Place and other locations.
The new facility will provide a central location for services. It will also offer office space for staff to provide assistance regarding taxes, food stamps, fuel assistance and other programs; health services and counseling; kitchen space, a dining room, drop-in areas, meeting rooms, activity rooms for things like exercise, painting, bingo, bridge, dancing and knitting; storage space and large multi-purpose rooms available to the community for a variety of functions.
Planners say there will also be outdoor patio and garden space as well as trails, plus parking for approximately 100 vehicles.