By Ed Karvoski Jr., Contributing Writer
Marlborough – Less than a year and a half after a formal groundbreaking, state and city officials gathered March 19 at a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the long-awaited, 22,000-square-foot Marlborough Senior Center on New Street in Ward Park. Furnishings were moved from its former Main Street location March 7 and 8.
In 2002, the city funded a feasibility study to identify and evaluate other suitable sites, noted Mayor Arthur Vigeant.
“The city was spending money in different directions and it wasn’t time for the vote from the council yet,” he said.
A decade later, the Finance Committee approved $500,000 to fund designs for a new center. Other locations considered were the Old Meeting House on Pleasant Street, the former post office on Mechanic Street, an office building on Forest Street, and the former Registry of Motor Vehicles building on Maple Street.
Another strong consideration was the former Bigelow School on Orchard Street in Ward Park, now the Assabet Valley Collaborative. The idea was discussed at a meeting with their representatives, the mayor and John Ghiloni, the Department of Public Works commissioner and chair of the Senior Center Building Committee.
Leaving that meeting, Vigeant thought of constructing a new building at the park’s other side. He and Ghiloni shared the idea with the building committee.
“We tried to get a consensus to see if there would be a roadblock along the way,” Vigeant said. “Roadblocks came up that we probably didn’t anticipate too much.”
In 2013, the City Council approved borrowing $6.5 million for the center’s construction. Soon afterward, a group of Ward Park neighbors filed a lawsuit against the city to stop the project. Among the suit’s allegations was that erecting a senior center in Ward Park is inconsistent with its restricted use as a playground. A Middlesex Superior Court judge dismissed the suit.
Acknowledging the neighbors’ concerns, Vigeant noted that additional improvements are scheduled for the park including more parking and field space, and bocce, pickleball and tennis courts.
Council President Trish Pope, also a building committee member, expressed the location’s perks.
“To have the park right next door is such an added bonus,” she said. “There’s an opportunity for so much intergenerational programming.”
Pope recognized the efforts of city councilors including Matt Elder of Ward 3.
“This project is in Matt’s backyard,” she noted. “He had many, many meetings with the neighbors and fielded a tremendous amount of phone calls because he believed that this was the right place for the project.”
James Confrey, the Council on Aging (COA) board chair, echoed the sentiment regarding the chosen site.
“This is an exciting time for the seniors,” he said. “When the park gets finished, it’s going to be even more exciting.”
Jennifer Claro, the COA executive director, read the Betty Friedan quote printed on the ceremony’s program: “Aging is not lost youth, but a new stage of opportunity and strength.”
Claro added, “Mayor Vigeant, this quote exemplifies what you have given our Marlborough senior community: a kitchen with all the modern conveniences, a billiard room, fitness center, cozy library, wonderful administrative and program space, and a computer lab with the latest technology.”
State Sen. Jamie Eldridge, D-Acton, congratulated everyone involved.
“This has been advocated for decades, but to see the turnover of being built in just a matter of a couple years is very impressive,” he said. “It really shows respect to seniors to have a new facility for programming to make sure they have an excellent quality of life in their later years.”
State Rep. Danielle Gregoire, D-Marlborough, is looking forward to the new facility benefitting the city.
“I can’t wait for this to be the heart of downtown Marlborough – and I really see that happening,” she said.
Ghiloni also anticipates the center’s long-term effects.
“It’s a great accomplishment for the city of Marlborough for generations to come,” he said.
The public was invited to an open house March 22.