By Neil H. Dempsey
---- — SALEM — After decades of proposals, plans, debates and deals, officials say construction of the Gateway Center — and thus the city’s new senior facility — is set to begin in April.
Mayor Kim Driscoll made the announcement this week in a letter to the City Council introducing Rosalia Velazquez, her choice for Council on Aging director. Driscoll’s office later confirmed that High Rock LLC, the developer of the four-story, public/private complex at Boston and Bridge streets, had committed to start work in April.
Officials have been anxiously waiting for construction to begin since former City Councilor Jerry Ryan hammered out a deal with Driscoll last March to finance the $4.9 million senior center, which will be located in a 20,000-square-foot space on the development’s first floor.
Via a term of that agreement, construction of the 140,000-square-foot complex was supposed to begin within a year — or by this month. It’s unclear what effect, if any, construction beginning in April as opposed to March will have on the project.
Dominick Pangallo, Driscoll’s chief aide, said city building inspectors had met with C3, High Rock’s construction firm, to begin the process of issuing site work permits. The initial parts of construction will focus on improving soil conditions and compacting the ground to accommodate piles for the foundation, he said.
High Rock manager David Sweetser said the work should take about a year, with the project wrapping up by summer or autumn 2015. He added the total cost of the project hadn’t been determined yet because the company hadn’t received final bids for certain components of the construction.
Meg Twohey, a member of the Federal Street Neighborhood Association, said she was happy to hear that construction should soon be underway.
“That’s good news,” Twohey said. “We’ve been waiting to hear that it would really start for quite a while.”
Twohey said the project had her group’s support in large part because it fits with the city’s North River Canal Corridor plan. For years, city officials have eyed a number of redevelopment projects in the area, including at the former Flynntan and Salem Oil and Grease sites.
The city originally signed a purchase and sale agreement to buy a portion of the High Rock project in 2009.
In addition to the senior facility, the Gateway site will feature 374 parking spaces and professional offices. Sweetser said he hadn’t signed on any tenants yet.
Another part of the deal Ryan reached with Driscoll guaranteed that the city would be held harmless over any pre-existing contamination at the site, which once hosted a Sylvania plant.
Also, the agreement mandated that the city establish the Council on Aging director position that Velazquez will fill. She is expected to be involved in the planning of the senior facility.
Neil H. Dempsey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.