By John Swinconeck, Contributing Writer
Marlborough – Construction of a new senior center at Ward Park is continuing, according to Mayor Arthur Vigeant's office, despite a lawsuit against the city brought by the park's neighbors.
The suit, filed in Middlesex Superior Court, alleges that the city of Marlborough did not comply with various state regulations when it moved forward with planning and construction of the center, according to Julie McNeill, a Dracut attorney representing the plaintiffs.
“The city is constructing a senior center and associated parking lot on approximately 2.2 acres of Ward Park but has not complied with the proper procedures to do so,” the suit reads, in part.
Michael and Faith Nickolas, Ned Fenstermacher, and Paul Brodeur, who live adjacent to the park, are listed as plaintiffs.
The defendants are the city of Marlborough, Vigeant, the City Council, and the Parks and Recreation Commission.
The suit alleges:
That no officials – and no one from the Parks and Recreation Commission – notified the City Council that part of the park was no longer needed “for playground purposes,” in violation of state law;
- That the city failed to obtain permission from the legislature to use park land for uses other than their stated purpose;
- That “erecting a senior center on Ward Park is inconsistent with its restricted use as a playground”;
- That the city did not apply for a required state environmental review.
The city had yet to answer the suit, according to McNeill.
However, on Jan. 21, Michael Berry, executive aide to Mayor Vigeant, said “the city will mount a vigorous defense.”
“It's unfortunate that the neighbors decided to go this route,” Berry said, adding that the city “respected” their right to do so.
Marlborough has retained outside legal counsel to defend itself in the suit, according to Berry.
“We felt we investigated all legal avenues with this, and we feel comfortable in our legal standing,” Berry said.
The suit states that the City Council in December 2012 “voted to approve the design with no public meeting or input, and no study done for feasibility, traffic, or parking.”
Michael Nickolas, who has been outspoken in his opposition to constructing the center at the park, referred questions to McNeill.
Last year, the plaintiffs and other opponents gathered nearly 1,000 signatures on a petition under the auspices of the Ward Park Neighborhood Association. Among the petitioners” complaints: that the park was too small for the building and its parking lot; that the city didn's use a “rigorous evaluation process”; and that it's a reduction of limited park space while destroying areas used for outdoor activities.
Regardless, the City Council approved two bonds totaling almost $10 million for the center's construction and for renovations at the park.
Proponents, notably Marlborough's Council on Aging, have stated the center won's use space currently taken up by youth sports, playgrounds, the wading pool, or the basketball and tennis courts.
The council has maintained that its current 240 Main St. location is inadequate for the city's growing senior population. Vigeant made construction of the new center one of his priorities.
According to plans from Court Street Architects, the new facility will include a multi-purpose function room, a fitness equipment room, greenhouse/solarium, gift store, computer lab/technology room, an arts and crafts room, a library, and exercise room.
The building will total 22,000 square feet on a 14,600-square-foot footprint.
The project also means the sorely needed restoration of Ward Park, which has had problems with graffiti and other vandalism, in addition to badly needed improvements to the field, according to Berry.
“The park itself needed attention, and was devoid of the activities we would like to see in a downtown park area,” Berry said. “The field was not really usable, and when it was raining it was a mud bowl.”
Ward Park is already owned by the town and its central location is important, Berry said. Some suggested alternative sites had costly environmental issues that would need to be remediated.
A groundbreaking ceremony was held in November 2013.
There is not a firm opening date for the center, but Berry said he hoped construction would be finished by the end of this year. Renovations of the park will begin once the senior center is constructed, Berry said.
Meanwhile, prepping the area on which the senior center will be constructed continues as topsoil is now being replaced with soil more suitable for construction. The site is fenced off, Berry said, and the project is moving “full steam ahead.”