Metro, Politics, Newton

Architect Details NewCAL Designs Following Vote Not to Landmark Current Senior Center

An architect detailed building plans for a new Newton senior center after the Newton Historical Commission voted last month to not landmark the current facility following community debate over its historical significance.

Dan Chen, the principal at the architecture firm Bargmann Hendrie + Archetype, Inc., talked about the sustainability and accessibility of a proposed design for the new Newton Center for Active Living (NewCAL) building at a community meeting on Thursday.

“One of the most important tenets, as you know, of this proposed senior center design is to provide easy access and a natural flow through the space [for] as many people as possible,” Chen said.

Chen highlighted the floor plans for each of the proposed building’s four levels, detailing everything from a gym area on the ground level to solar panels on the roof. The new design utilizes sustainable energy, according to Chen.

“The senior center is projected to use 39 percent less energy than the most stringent Massachusetts [law], and this is done through the use of renewable energy … and no fossil fuel usage,” he said.

Creating accessible and practical facilities for seniors was also a key goal in the design process, Chen said.

“As the design of the new senior center continues forward, we hope—and will continue to look for opportunities—to improve how the building can fit better into this Newtonville neighborhood while balancing tourist spaces that are comfortable, light-filled, accessible, and functional,” Chen said.

The design also includes more recreational space than the current senior center facility. The gym in the new building is projected to be 6,300 square feet compared to the around 2,000 square feet in the current senior center, according to John Morse, commissioner of public buildings for the City of Newton, who spoke at the meeting.

After Chen’s presentation, several community members asked questions about the design of the new building. 

Newton resident Tom Gloria asked Chen if there was a need for another elevator, given the potential for many people gathering in the center. Chen said the one elevator included in the design is enough.

“Majority of the larger events are happening on the first floor, such as [in] the two multifunction spaces,” he said. “We’re pretty confident that one elevator will be able to serve the demographic and the population of the senior center.”

Morse said that the NewCAL building plans are nearly finalized, so the process of site plan approval—which would allow for construction if approved—has begun.

“Once [city officials] think that [the building] is in a pretty good spot, they recommend site plan approval,” he said. “That then triggers a public hearing and a public hearing process through the City Council.”

After a public comment period during which Newton residents can voice their concerns, the City Council will vote to approve or disapprove the building proposal.

“That [vote] then allows us to move into design development and construction documents—the last two phases of design—before we start construction and then ultimately finish and cut a ribbon,” Morse said.

NewCAL’s groundbreaking will occur in approximately 16 months, and the construction will take about two years, according to Morse’s statement at a previous community update meeting.

He said he hopes the building will be open in the summer of 2025.

“That is still our goal—we are pushing hard,” he said during Thursday’s meeting. “This winter slowed us down a little bit, but we are going to do everything we can to try to recover that time and keep things moving and maintain that project schedule.”

April 26, 2022