| Kristin Regula
WILBRAHAM – A new senior center may breathe new life into an elementary school building no longer being used by the town.
The former Memorial Elementary School site in Wilbraham is one of three possible sites for a senior center that has been in the works since January of 2017, after the primary site that had been considered was deemed unusable due to wetlands on the property.
“Memorial is a 60 – over 50-year-old building,” Susan Bunnell, the chairman of the Board of Selectmen in Wilbraham, told Reminder Publications. “It’s got great bones, it’s a very nice building.”
The former Post Office of Wilbraham is also another site being considered, according to a previous article in The Reminder due to its proximity to the library, banks, a hair salon, and a coffee shop in downtown Wilbraham that would interest the center’s clients, but there is a major drawback – parking.
As previously reported in this newspaper, there needs to be 100 parking spaces for the amount of people that would be using the senior center. The former post office in Wilbraham only has 65 parking spaces, leaving the potential senior center location 35 spaces short of the parking spaces that would be needed to accommodate everyone. Research is currently being undertaken by the town of Wilbraham to see what can be done to expand parking in that area.
“That is an option to utilize the Crane Park for additional spots [for the post office site],” Senior Building Center Chair Dennis Lopata told Reminder Publications.
While the Memorial Elementary School site has the required number of parking spaces needed for the new senior center, there are other drawbacks that could disqualify it as a viable option. A major one is that renovations would be needed in order to bring the building up to code.
“Their [Senior Center Committee’s] architect at least in general didn’t look real favorably upon rehabbing elementary schools in particular,” said Bunnell.
Due to the age of the building, the amount of renovations needed is unclear.
“The school, if it continues to be in educational use, then you’re kind of grandfathered under the code so you don’t have to do a full ADA compliance [renovation],” said Bunnell. “In fact, the building already has bathrooms that are ADA compliant.”
The former Memorial Elementary School may also be considered as not just a senior center but also a multi-use facility for the town of Wilbraham as the property is larger than the space required to house the senior center. Subsequently, renovations would only be needed for the part of the building being used as the senior center.
“The senior center would not, as I understand it, need or want all of the building so it’s possible that if we moved in that direction, if it was seen as a viable location we would move in the direction of some sort of shared thing,” said Bunnell.
A plan for a second use for the building that is in the early stages is for an educational program to be at the former school.
“Interest has been shown by Lower Pioneer Valley Educational Collaborative to use part of the building for an educational program,” said Bunnell.
A third site, Stony Hill, another school that the town is no longer planning to lease, is also being considered. This site is smaller and would be more suitable for a single-use facility such as the senior center.
“From the perspective of the senior center, it has a preferential layout in terms of being more compact,” said Bunnell.