By Bethany Bray
---- — SALEM — The city is on its way to getting a full-time Council on Aging director.
The job has been posted, a dozen applicants have sent in resumes so far, and Mayor Kim Driscoll said she hopes to fill the position by early January.
Funding a full-time director was part of a deal the mayor negotiated with Ward 4 Councilor Jerry Ryan in exchange for support of the mayor’s financing plan for the new senior center planned for the corner of Boston and Bridge streets.
The 20,000-square-foot Gateway Center will be a public/private development that will include the new community center, offices and a 374-space parking lot.
Once hired, the new director will not only manage Salem’s senior programming but will be closely involved with the planning and building of the new senior center.
David Sweetser, manager of High Rock, the complex’s developer, said the project is moving forward, but it’s too early to tell when construction will begin.
Preconstruction work, such as taking soil samples, surveys and borings, has already occurred, he said.
“Things are going well,” Sweetser said. “We’re moving forward, moving ahead.”
Salem has not had a dedicated Council on Aging director for about seven years, since senior services was combined with the parks and recreation department in a budget consolidation. Right now, the parks and recreation department director oversees the city’s senior programming, with the help of support staff. Both departments are located in a 150-year-old building at 5 Broad St.
The new, full-time COA director will report to the parks and recreation director, Driscoll said.
The job description asks for applicants with a bachelor’s degree and five to seven years of experience or a master’s degree with a minimum of two years’ experience.
“Ability to speak Spanish a plus,” the job description reads.
A search committee, including members of Council on Aging board of directors, will go through the resumes in the coming weeks, Driscoll said.
Hiring a full-time seniors director was one of three amendments Ryan and Driscoll agreed on in the days leading up to the vote on the financing plan in March. The other amendments required that the developer to begin construction within a year and that he agree the city would be “held harmless” if anyone were to become sick from contamination at the site.
The long-vacant property at Boston and Bridge streets was once a Sylvania plant.
A new senior center has been years in coming to Salem; multiple locations have been considered over the tenure of several mayors.
Once built, the city plans to name the new senior center for former Mayor Jean Levesque.
Sweetser said his company is in “active discussions” with possible tenants, but none have signed leases yet.
“I know it’s been a long time coming,” Sweetser said. “We’re looking forward to developing a first-class building. ... We’re optimistic things are going in the right direction, and we’re pleased by it.”
The city signed a $5 million purchase-and-sale agreement with High Rock to buy a large portion of the proposed four-story building in 2009.
“We are really pushing the developer hard to get moving,” Driscoll said. “We want to see this project commence as soon as possible. ... We’d like to be in the building as soon as possible. We all want this thing started.”
Bethany Bray can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @SalemNewsBB.