Senior Center site issue goes to court

SPRINGFIELD – A Hampden Probate Court judge will decide if constructing a senior center on the Mary Noble estate is consistent with the intent of Noble’s will, after hearing details of the petition presented by the Westfield Housing Authority and the city’s Law Department.
Attorney Brian Pearly of the Law Department and Dennis Powers, representing the Housing Authority, presented details of the city’s petition for a judgment to Judge David Fuller Friday morning.
The city is asking the judge to clarify language in Noble’s will that her property, located on Noble Street, be used for the benefit of senior citizens and if construction of a senior center satisfies that requirement. Noble’s will left the land to the Westfield Housing Authority for development of additional senior housing adjacent to the Ely-Dollan apartment complex. Construction, or even the concept of, senior centers was not en vogue when Mary Noble wrote her will, so the language of the will neither specifically allows nor prohibits that use.
Fuller will make the final decision on the suitability of using the estate of Mary Noble as the site for construction of a new 20,000-square-foot, two story, $6 million senior center, replacing the present facility on Main Street which has insufficient space to offer seniors a greater variety of programs.
The Friday hearing was also attended by Susan Phillips, Law Department supervisor, and Housing Director Dan Kelley.
Phillips said the issue has gone through a process which included a review by the state Attorney General. That AG’s office required votes of the Housing Authority and Noble Hospital Board of Directors, because the property defaults to the Noble Hospital Board of Directors if it is not used by the Westfield Housing Authority for senior housing, to “assent” to construction of the senior center.
“The fact that it is in front of a judge means this has cleared another hurdle,” Phillips said. “It’s in the judge’s hands now. We’re very optimistic that he will approve it.”
Fuller did request that the vote of the Noble Hospital Board of Directors be recorded in a formal assent form to be included in the case file of documents.
“The directors voted last January (2012) to consent to that use of the property,” Phillips said. “So this request is just a formality. The Housing Authority, which is listed as the owner, and Attorney General signed off on it as well.”
Fuller took the issue “under review” and will make a decision after receiving the Noble Board of Directors document.
The city hired Diversified Project Management Inc., of Newton, to serve as the Owner Project Manager (OPM). The OPM is selected early in the project to assist the city in selecting a design architect, and eventually a building contractor.
The city selected two firms, working in collaboration, to design the new center, retaining Dietz & Company Architects of Springfield which is teaming up with Courtstreet Architects of Newton, which has designed several senior centers constructed recently in the state.
The issue of the Noble will, and the need to resolve it through Probate Court, has slowed the design process because of the uncertainty of the final site selection. Resolution of the Noble will language and intent will allow the city to designate the property as the building site for the new senior center.

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