To Ed Dypa, approving the conversion of the former St. Sebastian School was the right thing to do; the city would be preserving a beautiful, historic, public building while finally making good on a 40-year-old promise to provide a permanent senior center.
On Wednesday, the planning and zoning commission did just that. In a unanimous vote, commissioners approved a special exception to re-use the 80-year-old building at 61 Durant Terr. -- also known as the Eckersley-Hall school -- as a senior center and municipal offices. The building is located in a residential neighborhood one block east of Illiano's on South Main Street.
Afterward, Dypa, chairman of the senior services commission, said he was "very happy," noting that, since the 1970s, seniors have been using a center on William Street that he characterized as "one room and five parking spaces."
"I've been working on (a new senior center) for 15 years," he said, grinning.
Mayor Sebastian Giuliano also attended the meeting and strongly urged commissioners to support the conversion, saying a vote in favor of the plan would be honoring "a promise make to the seniors 40 years ago."
Several commissioners said they were moved emotionally by the appeals of seniors. As commissioners, however, their duty was to make certain the application met the legalistic, cut-and-dried requirements for a special exception.
Fortunately, they concluded, it did. But their support came with some qualifications.
Several expressed skepticism that the 39 parking spaces allotted at the main, southern entrance to the building (plus another 18 spaces for on-street parking on Durant Terrace and Birdseye Avenue) would be enough. Specifically, however, they concluded that the parking plan was adequate, that the proposed use was in line with the town plan of development, that it won't have a significant impact on traffic, that the use is in keeping with the neighborhood's character and won't hurt property values.
At the urging of Catherine Johnson, commissioners included a "friendly amendment" to the approval requesting the installation of a bike rack at the senior center and tree plantings between the street and a proposed sidewalk that will be installed along all four sides of the block.
After the vote, Giuliano said he'll submit appointments to a building committee to the common council for its approval next month. He said a preliminary review of the plans put the cost of the renovation at $1.7 million; including the $800,000 purchase price, that would put the total cost of the project at $2.5 million.