, Salem, MA

June 13, 2013

Senior center has a name, but what about a building?


---- — SALEM — In the week that Jean Levesque was buried, one thing is certain about the city’s proposed senior center: It will carry the name of the former mayor.

There is still no firm timetable for a project that has frustrated the past three mayors and been debated for the past two decades. But there are signs, at long last, of a little movement.

Architects are drawing plans for the proposed four-story office/medical building at the corner of Boston and Bridge streets that will include a senior center as an anchor on the ground floor.

“Once plans are done, we can attach timelines,” developer David Sweetser said.

The developer also has hired a construction management firm and is finalizing bid plans.

Other than the city, which has a signed $5 million agreement to buy a portion of the building, Sweetser said he has no other confirmed tenants. He said, however, that is not unusual for a project at this early stage.

“We are talking earnestly with other people,” he said.

Mayor Kim Driscoll has been a little more forthcoming about prospects, saying earlier this year that Sweetser had landed a medical office tenant and has had interest from elder service providers.

Whatever the status of those negotiations, Sweetser said he expects to move ahead with construction once he has all the permits and approvals in hand.

There have been so many false starts on a senior center that even Driscoll is careful about announcing timelines.

“We’re certainly hoping to see some activity soon,” she said. “I hate to say a date. ... I know (the developer) made outreach around some preconstruction meetings.”

When the City Council approved the city’s share of financing in March, it did so on condition that construction start within a year. Council President Jerry Ryan also got Driscoll to agree to hire a full-time Council on Aging director to work at the new center.

Driscoll said she has put money for a new director into next year’s budget and hopes to have someone on board by January to help oversee plans for the new space and to work on added programming for seniors. It is important to get this right, she said.

“We really want this project to come out in a way that we’re all proud of,” she said, “especially since it has Jean’s name on it.”

Tom Dalton can be reached at