Newton Group Applauds Purchase of City Land for NewCAL; reiterates its opposition to the demolition of the Senior Center

The organization is suing the town in Middlesex Superior Court to block the demolition of the existing aged care centre. In court papers, they also argued that the project would damage a public park across from the center and that the city’s historic commission failed to follow proper procedures on a proposal to preserve the building.

“The park on Walnut Street is immediately visible from this main street, so it will be used to a much greater extent than the park created behind a new senior center. Additionally, the historic nature of the building and the existing setback are major contributions to making Newtonville Village Center such an attractive location for residents and visitors,” the statement read.

“If a redesigned seniors’ center isn’t feasible, perhaps it’s time to recognize that this plot is simply too small for the seniors’ center that Newton deserves,” the group said.

Proponents of the proposed NewCAL project on the Walnut Street property said a larger, more accessible building was needed to serve city residents.

But the proposal to replace the aging senior center with a modern facility has divided the city, as conservationists argue the historic building should not be demolished.

The proposed facility would be roughly triple the size of the existing 11,000 square foot senior center, which was erected in the 1930s as a branch of the Newtonville Public Library.

In a statement Monday, Fred Arnstein, president of Neighbors for a Better Newtonville, reiterated his opposition to the demolition of the current senior center, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

“Allowing the demolition of this building would set a dangerous precedent. We will continue to oppose the City’s willingness to sacrifice our parks and historic buildings,” Arnstein said in the statement.

Earlier this month, Fuller announced a $1.5 million deal to purchase an adjoining property at 47 Walnut Place. The agreement provides that the current residents remain in the property and the city will take over the parcel when it becomes vacant.

Fuller said the city plans to demolish the existing two-family home and use the land as open space for the NewCAL project. Combined with the senior center parcel, the property would be approximately eight-tenths of an acre. Fuller said

In addition to the open space, Josh Morse, the city’s building commissioner, told city councilors in a July 1 memo that the additional property will not change the proposed design for NewCAL.

As well as the open space, he told councilors that potential future use of the additional land could include additional parking.

The group of neighbors highlighted these potential uses on Monday and said the new facility “will need more space for these two important needs.”

In the neighborhood group’s statement, the organization said the combined property would be “significantly less” than the 2 to 2.5 acres needed for NewCAL, according to a 2019 Parks and Recreation Commission submission.

On Monday, the group highlighted that report, which also said the center plot at 345 Walnut St. was “far too small to support the ever-growing program.”

In 2019, when the report was published, the NewCAL task force had proposed part of Albemarle Field as the project site following a citywide review of properties, but city leaders eventually abandoned this option following opposition from some residents.

Fuller announced in August 2020 that NewCAL would be located at the existing Senior Center, and the NewCAL Task Force recommended the construction of a new building at the Walnut Street site in a report released about a year later.

John Hilliard can be contacted at [email protected]