Waterford Street School to become Gardner Community Center

GARDNER — The former schoolhouse on Waterford Street will soon host a new multi-tenant community center, officials said Monday.

“This plan brings together different nonprofits from across the city and allows them to work together under one roof, collaborate in new and better ways, and expand the services they provide to our residents,” said Mayor Michael Nicholson.

Four organizations would move into the building: the Gardner Senior Centerthe Gardner Community Action Committee, GAAMHA, Inc.and places of culture. The old school will become the new home of the Senior Center and Gardner CAC (who currently share a building on Pleasant Street), while GAAMHA Inc. and Leominster-based Growing Places will use the extra space to expand their current services.

The new school creates possibilities for the old school

“We knew that with the construction of the brand new primary school, Waterford Street School would be one of the largest buildings to be repurposed, so we worked to bring in non-profit organizations and municipal services to fill this space in a symbiotic way so that these organizations can grow collaboratively and continue to increase the services they provide to the Gardner region,” said Representative Jonathan Zlotnik, D-Gardner.

“As a former pupil here at Waterford Street School and the son of a former teacher here, I am very happy to see this building breathe new life and be redeveloped in such a meaningful way for our community and its people,” said added Zlotnik.

The Boys & Girls Club’s Gardner Clubhouse also took advantage of the opening of the new school and moved from Gardner Middle School to Elm Street School, allowing them to expand both its offering and capacity.

After:Boys & Girls Gardner Clubhouse opens at Elm Street School

More space for the senior center and no dangerous stairs

Michael Ellis, director of the Gardner Council on Aging, said he was excited about the prospect of moving Center for the elderly in the old school. He said the new location would provide the center with more parking, more space for programs and eliminate the need for visitors to climb stairs, a problem that has led to several injuries in recent years.

“It doesn’t go without notice that the stairs are precarious,” Ellis explained. “In fact, we had several major incidents that required us to call an ambulance or the emergency services for people who had fallen down the stairs. Stairs are simply not a good fit for senior centers.

Michael Ellis, director of the Gardner Council on Aging, said the new one-story location will provide the Gardner Senior Center with more parking, more space for programs and eliminate stair hazards for seniors.

The old school building would provide the Senior Center with a one-story facility, Ellis said.

“This (move) allows our agency to have all of our programs in one place instead of being scattered all over town, and it also gives us the opportunity to deepen and strengthen our partnerships in the community,” said Julie Meehan, Executive Director of the Gardner CAC. “We are delighted with this opportunity.”

Meehan added that moving to the ground floor of the school would mean increased security for the volunteers, staff and residents who use CAC services.

Ayn Yeagle, Executive Director of places of culturewhich serves 21 communities in the area, said his organization would use the old school’s kitchen as a processing center so that local farmers can more efficiently provide healthy food to those in need in the community.

The Gardner Senior Center, Gardner CAC, GAAMHA, Inc. and Growing Places will begin moving into the former Waterford Street School within the next year.

“Take an apple, for example. We can make applesauce, or apple fries or you name it with apples — maybe apple pie if you’re lucky,” Yeagle said. “We will then distribute (these products) through our various points of sale.”

“I’m really excited to be at Gardner,” added Yeagle.

GAAMHA can help more people

Tracy Hutchinson, President and CEO of GAAMHAsaid his organization had recently been forced to refuse referrals due to a lack of space at its Coleman Street headquarters.

“Being able to occupy this site at Waterford Street School will allow us to double or triple the (number) of people we currently serve,” said Hutchinson, adding that the shared space would provide additional benefits for GAAMHA customers. “It will also lead to volunteer opportunities at CAC, Growing Places and the Senior Center for each of the individuals to learn additional skills, which could possibly lead to real employment in the community.”

Lease agreements between the city and the building’s new tenants will still need to be reviewed and approved by city council.

The intended use of the former Waterford Street School

A name for the new community center was still being determined, officials said.

New tenants are expected to begin moving into the building in phases starting next year.

Jill E. Washington