At their June 8 meeting, members of the committee examined the latest plans drawn up by consultants ARG. The group had been scrambling to incorporate thoughts and concerns raised by the committee members at their last meeting and work them into the design.
One of the areas of greatest concern was the main hall area, which is expected to host crab feeds and other events. ARG Principal Naomi Miroglio said they shaved space out of the Prospect Avenue promenade entrance in order to gain more square footage in the hall.
The senior space, located toward the rear of the structure, was also expanded to allow a second bathroom.
Veterans asked whether there would be a way for them to have a private office in the second floor of the building. The area, designated for veterans' use, has desks for the various organizations but no room for private discourse.
Committee member Scott Perkins said the veterans will need to have an office up there where they can have frank discussions about veterans' benefits and other issues in private. He suggested several possible changes to the plan that would allow them to include the office.
"I've driven architects crazy," he joked. "There's been a whole roomful of them in a state hospital."
While the veterans were largely satisfied with the layout, some members of the senior community were less enthused.
"I don't feel the seniors have been very well represented. I think the veterans' needs have been well met but not the seniors'," said Linda Stolow.
Stolow pointed to the contemporary look of the Prospect Avenue side and reminded the committee that the Veterans Hall is a historic structure. She also stated that the look of the building does not match the overall look of the downtown.
"I don't think we're preserving downtown," she said, "too much glass. Our downtown is quaint. I don't get 'quaint' out of this."
Stolow questioned the legality of the narrow setbacks for the project, as the municipal code stipulates a minimum 10-foot setback on the street side and side yard. Her recommendation was to take the seniors out of the mix entirely.
"I don't think this is the right building for us. I don't think we're meeting the needs of seniors, especially handicapped seniors," she claimed.
She called for the classes and events held at the Town Community Center near the library to be moved to the Veterans Hall and to move the senior events to the Community Center.
Other senior advocates spoke, including Chia-Chia Chien of the Chinese American Senior Center and Barbara Smith of Contra Costa for Every Generation. Both warned the committee that with the senior population about to be impacted by the aging baby boomer generation that senior facilities will need to be prepared for the influx.
"We applaud you for planning for a new senior center," Smith said. "We just hope it's going to be big enough."
Smith added that concerns about parking should be addressed. She pointed to the drop-off lane along Prospect Avenue, which would assist passengers being let out near the entrance, but asked about those who drive. "Put yourself in the shoes of someone who is 80 years old with limited mobility," she stated.
Perkins said that while he sympathizes with the seniors' concerns he wanted to remind people that this is, after all, a veterans' building.
"The veterans welcome other users, we've been welcoming other users for a long time. But I want people to realize that the veterans are giving a 13,000-square-foot lot to this project and have committed to raising $3 million to this project. It allows for dedicated veterans' space," he said.
Mayor Newell Arnerich wrapped up the comment period by saying, "I don't want anyone to walk away thinking the seniors are not represented." He commended Kevin Donavan and Kent Rezowalli for their work in bringing senior concerns to the committee and said he feels that while the building does not provide for everything the seniors requested, it is a vast improvement over the current facilities.
"I think we've hit a homerun on most of those things," he said. "Is it better than what they have now? Absolutely."
With the committee's agreement over the preliminary concept plan, ARG will begin the process of breaking down the cost of the work and will present an initial cost estimate at the June 22 meeting.