What’s old is new in Swampscott

April 9, 2017


SWAMPSCOTT — The former senior center on Burrill Street, vacant since 2007, will soon be transformed into a community arts center.

The Board of Selectmen last week unanimously approved granting Town Administrator Sean Fitzgerald the authority to sign a lease agreement with Reach Arts, a nonprofit group of artists and residents, which plan to convert the building.

“I’m totally thrilled that we’re going to have a cultural arts center in Swampscott,” said Naomi Dreeben, chairwoman of the board of selectmen.

Laura Smith, secretary of Reach Arts, said the two-year lease with an option for a three-year extension is for $1 a year, with the town picking up the cost of utilities for the first two years. Reach would then take over the cost of utilities in the extended part of the lease.

“We have so many hopes and dreams for that building,” Smith said. “I think it’s going to be a really wonderful cultural arts center.”

Peter Kane, director of community development, said that last year, the selectmen agreed to a proposal through the Request for Proposals (RFP) process to grant a lease to Reach Arts to rehabilitate and convert the former senior center on Burrill Street into a cultural center. The proposal from Reach was the only response to the RFP issued in November 2015.

He said the lease allows Reach to operate, rehabilitate and manage the building and the property as a cultural center.

“Additionally, it is a town property,” Kane said. “We are leasing it to the nonprofit, and so the town will also maintain the snow removal for the sidewalks, the driveway, and will maintain the lawn. Reach will have the responsibility of doing improvements to the building, making it occupiable, running programs in the building.”

Through the lease agreement, Kane said the town committees will also have the right to use the space with proper notice and request. The town can also run programs there with request, he added.

If Reach is able to make the proper improvements and run a successful program during the first two years, the town will grant it an extension for three years, Kane said. At the end of the five years, Reach can then work with the selectmen on a new lease, he said.

Since the organization was founded in 2013, it had been working to get its reuse proposal approved by the town, Sydney Pierce, vice-president of Reach Arts, said in a prior interview. The group is homeless and held outside art attacks around town and started an operation virtually after their initial proposal was not accepted by the selectmen in 2013, Smith said. The RFP had been looking for affordable housing, Smith added, and was closed without awarding the building.

Smith said the group looked at other buildings, including the train station and the former Machon Elementary School, but couldn’t find a space as multi-functional as the senior center.

Renovations are expected to cost the group $29,720, according to a summary provided by Reach Arts. Kane said work will start in the basement level.

There will be lead paint removal. Then, he said the group will do analysis on the electrical and heating system in the building. They will do mold abatements, and demolish the kitchen space. There needs to be serious repainting and repairs to close up the building to get rid of the raccoon issue. There will be bathroom improvements, along with wall and ceiling repairs, Kane said.

Smith said the basement is handicapped accessible, with two handicapped-accessible bathrooms. She said the plan is to build a ramp to the first floor (the building has three floors, including the basement, main floor and upstairs), and install an elevator to get people to the second floor easily. The outside of the building will be painted and the front porch will be repaired, she said.

Over April vacation, from April 16 to 23, Reach Arts will offer high school students opportunities to learn home building skills through a professional lecture series, and donate their time and labor to the opening of the cultural arts house. Students will be put to work painting and pruning, Smith said.

Reach Arts hopes to open the arts house in the fall. Programming may include painting instruction on the first floor and performances in the upstairs area where there is a ballroom. Another room on the first floor is planned as a shop where artists can sell their work.

The group’s plan is to create a community kitchen where cooking classes can be held, Smith said. To generate income outside of fundraising and sales, their plan is to rent out different parts of the building such as the ballroom and basement, according to their revenue plan.

“We feel extremely excited and optimistic,” Smith said.

Gayla Cawley can be reached at gcawley@itemlive.com. Follow her on Twitter @GaylaCawley.