LINCOLN — With the first public unveiling of the edifice to be called only “The Center,” Town Administrator T. Joseph Almond and State Rep. Mary Ann Shallcross Smith called Saturday morning a glorious moment for Lincoln.
It was easy to tell by the glow in the eyes of 89-year-old Gladys McKee that she heartily agreed.
McKee, a former Cumberland resident who now calls Lincoln home, relaxed in the main lobby of the state-of-the-art, 11,000 square-foot facility — following a ceremony attracting perhaps 200 – and reveled in its beauty.
“I think this is just fabulous,” noted the mother of three, grandmother to another trio and great-grandma to two. “You can tell they put so much work and heart into it. I've been looking around, and I see old-fashioned things with traditional values. Naturally, I love that, but they also have placed in here new, up-to-date items as well. That's what impresses me most.
“I like the (two-sided) fireplace the best, because it's so big, and it brings a warm feeling to the whole building,” she added. “The way I see it, this is going to make seniors very happy. I'm also impressed with Joe Almond's statement about the seniors in town deserving this. That makes us all feel great.”
McKee's assessment was music to the ears of Almond, Town Council and School Committee members, architect John Robinson of Robinson Design Inc. of Smithfield and other key officials.
During the approximate 40-minute, outdoor ceremony, Almond maintained, “A lot of people spent a lot of time to do this right, and put a lot of work into this building. The Town Council approved this project for you, and they deserve your credit, as they certainly have mine.
“This was always No. 1 on the council's and Capital Improvement Committee's list, and (Saturday) that goal is not just a reality but proof of what consensus can achieve.”
To the seniors, he explained, “We're here because of you. All of the moms and dads, grandmothers and grandfathers, aunts and uncles, you are a part of the fastest growing population in the nation … We are honored to give you this small token of our appreciation, for all you've done for us.”
Shallcross Smith presented a House of Representatives citation to Almond, and stated, “This is absolutely amazing. I've traveled all over the world, and this looks like a five-star hotel. 'Congratulations!' to all.”
On this rather cold morning, Council President Ronald McKenna, who was a key cog in the development of plans for “The Center,” offered some details into how it came to be. They included how the notion sprung to life back in 2007; why officials chose not to “fix up” the old center located at 40 Chapel St.; how a sub-committee traveled to other senior centers statewide to pull solid ideas from them; and how Lincoln seniors themselves provided answers to what they wanted.
“The first thing they asked for was a bocce court, and we started one behind the building,” McKenna said, drawing laughs from the crowd. “We hope to have that open by spring … You have no idea what was involved in this, but we couldn't have worked with a better construction company than Advanced Building Concepts (of Middletown).
“I'd like to thank John Robinson for his patience, and his (architectural designer/project manager) Deb D'Agostino for giving (the sub-committee) weekly reports so we knew what was going on,” he added.
Members of that sub-committee included Almond, McKenna, Senior Center Director Lois Durkin, Lincoln Housing Authority Executive Director Claudette Kuligowski, Lincoln Facilities Coordinator Dave Sale and Town Planner Al Ranaldi.
It should be noted that seniors will have to pay a small fee for a card that provides entrance. Non-residents may also use the center, at a slightly higher cost.
If you were unable to attend the gala, here's a small list of what this “Palace for Seniors” is, and will offer seniors and others.
The building, which cost about $3.5 million to construct, sits on 22.5 acres in the woods next to the “new” middle school on Jenckes Hill Road. It has 73 parking spaces, and it's energy efficiency is astonishing. It maintains a LEED gold rating; an advanced building core performance certification (with National Grid energy credit); geothermal heating and cooling (from two 1,300-foot wells inside the earth); and energy star appliances.
That's not all, as it also features a rain garden (with rainwater reuse via a “Water HOG” storage system for landscaping); heat recovery units; natural daylighting (through light-sensitive switches); and a structurally insulated panel wall and roof design.
“The Center” also will provide an evening meeting space, or conference room (complete with restrooms and a small kitchen), for Lincoln organizations (such as the veterans); an on-site generator to deliver power to all building systems, including heat, to allow for an emergency shelter; and a back-up data system for critical Town Hall and police department information.
“The feeling of finally being in here is overwhelming,” McKenna chuckled after the event. “I've been working on this since 2007. When we put together the Capital Development Committee, in my mind, I wanted us to consider a new senior center. The old one was inadequate, as it wasn't handicapped-accessible and the parking was problematic.
“This place is just gorgeous, and I think the seniors, as well as others, will find a lot to do here,” he continued. “My favorite place in the whole building is the fireplace. When Dave Sale and I went to the other senior centers, we saw one a lot like this in South Kingstown. We looked at each other and said, almost simultaneously, 'We want that!' You know, we didn't know John (Robinson) was the architect.
“This won't be open officially until Monday, Nov. 29, because we couldn't get a permanent certificate of occupancy until then. The reason for that is the generator that would make it an emergency shelter hasn't been hooked up yet. When it is, I'll be one of the first ones here. This building fits just right into this setting we have. You come down the driveway and see this beautiful structure, and people ask, 'That's a senior center? Are you kidding?'”
Robinson actually began drawing as a child and began interning with the famed Carl Johnson (who was the architect of Tolman High School in Pawtucket) while a Cumberland High student. He admitted he would have liked to make it even better.
“Because the sub-committee has seen some of my other work, they understood a lot of my design principles,” said Robinson, who was given a commemorative plaque by National Grid Energy Efficiency Consultant Bill Isaksen, also a Lincoln resident. “One of the most important things for us was to make the building user-friendly and 'non-institutional.'
“We did that by eliminating corridors and developing open spaces, making use of circulation space as gathering, socializing areas, and areas of display,” he added. “You know, we really would have liked to have another 500 square feet in the building. I think some of the (14) rooms ended up being a little small, or tight, but we had a mandate of 11,000 square feet, and to maintain budget.”
He also mentioned he wanted to use 10 foot, six-inch wall panels to give the rooms more height, such as in the dining room, but the standard wall panel height is 10 feet.
“We had to stick with the standard because 10-6 would have to be custom-made, and that's a lot more money.”
Robinson also revealed he's a member of the Environmental Design Research Association, a worldwide organization of post-doctoral scholars and architects.
“I met a woman through EDRA whose specialty was orientation and way-finding for the elderly,” he noted. “She hammered it home to me that I must design landmarks in buildings so people know where they are inside it. That way, it makes it more pleasing to the eye and safer for them. In here, the fireplace is the central landmark. From virtually every function room, people have a glimpse of it, and that's very comforting to them because they know where they are.
“Environmental psychologists study how people use buildings, how they see them, for programmed activities and spontaneous activities. This building is conducive to those spontaneous because it has vision panels. Folks can see into the rooms before they get there; that way, they have an opportunity to pick or choose before entering.”
He admitted the building is a little behind schedule, by a few weeks. That was due to National Grid bringing in the power, and also gleaning the final resolution on the well pumps (for heating and cooling.
Still, when asked what he thinks of his own creation, Robinson said shyly, “It's very nice. I like it. It's great to have been selected the architect originally, as it's a very competitive process … I'll also say I'm glad it's over. It was a lot of work. I'd like to have made it better, but I'm happy with it.”
During his speech, McKenna mentioned the edifice would be called “The Center,” as “We felt that we seniors wouldn't want to be constantly reminded that we're getting older.”
The comment drew roars from attendees of all ages. Moments later, they walked from the left parking lot to the front door for the ribbon-cutting, then inside Lincoln's newest creation for conversation and refreshments.