The City of Newton will not make major changes to its plans for the Newton Center for Active Living (NewCAL) project despite the YMCA’s recent announcement that it will open a second site in Newton, according to Public Buildings Commissioner Josh Morse, who spoke at a NewCAL community meeting on Thursday.
Newton resident Janet Sterman asked whether the city would reevaluate the program to incorporate more partnership with the West Suburban YMCA, which recently announced that it will build its second Newton site at 135 Wells Ave. Sterman said if the city could collaborate with YMCA to serve seniors, a new stand-alone senior facility would be unnecessary.
“[At] least reevaluate,” Sterman said. “Because, you know, there’s no reason why these senior services that are being offered at the senior center cannot be jointly offered at another facility. [It] doesn’t have to be a city-owned building—it can be a joint partnership.”
Morse said that the city does not plan to reevaluate its plans for NewCAL in response to the opening of the new YMCA site, instead stating that NewCAL would provide services that YMCA does not. He said that there could be collaborations between the two facilities further down the road.
“I have a tremendous amount of respect for what they do, and I think the South Side site is a wonderful opportunity for the Y,” Morse said. “That said, the Senior Services Department provides a lot of services that are not offered at the YMCA.”
Morse also said that the city explored other options before deeming NewCAL necessary.
“One of the first things we did … was to go through and look at all of the different programs and services that are offered privately and publicly throughout Newton to make sure that we’re not creating something that is … meeting a need that’s already met at a price point that serves the [seniors], and that there aren’t public assets that aren’t already existing out there and underutilized,” Morse said.
Pat Irwin, a Newton resident, said that the city should exhaust other options before tearing down the current senior center. At a February protest, elderly Newton residents supported tearing down the current facility.
“At some point, you gotta cut bait, and it’s time to fish,” Morse said. “And right now, we’re looking to break ground in—boy, what would it be?—16 months. And we’d like to cut the ribbon 24 months after that.”
Jim Mollenauer, another Newton resident, echoed Morse’s sentiment.
“We now have considered exhaustedly bazillion alternatives,” Mollenauer said. “We have to come back to consider one, and we should close all alternatives off. We should close all discussion and go forward. It’s time to do something, not just talk.”
The Newton Historical Commission will also discuss the proposal of landmarking the existing structure at a March 24 meeting. If the site becomes a landmark, the new senior center must preserve the existing facade, which might cause accessibility issues.
Robert Fizek, a Newton resident and architect, raised concerns about the carbon footprints of constructing a new building instead of repurposing an existing one.
“If you’re considering tearing down an existing architectural resource for this purpose or another, there’s a significant carbon cost because everything that was invested into that building is wasted,” Fizek said.
The next community update meeting on the NewCAL project will be on April 21, according to the project’s website.
Featured Image by Victor Stefanescu / Heights Editor