Mary Bowers broke into tears when she was asked to pick up a shovel and carve away a small piece of dirt Monday morning. She started to tear up again afterward, once the town had finally broken ground on a senior center that had been a focus for both optimism and contention for more than a decade.
“It’s like a miracle,” Bowers said Monday, standing on the ground that will by late next year be home to the Tolles-Parsons Center. “I never thought it’d happen in my lifetime.”
Eleven years after the late Billie Tolles left the town nearly $1 million, and after a litany of roadblocks and delays along the way, seniors and a who’s-who of town officials were on hand for Monday’s ceremony, which Bowers said would serve as a legacy for the town and for future generations of seniors.
“It’s so emotional,” she said, pausing at times to collect herself. “I can’t believe how purpose-driven I became over this. It’s going to be good.”
Bowers credited all who were involved in getting to a day where the earth could finally be dislodged from the site at 494 Washington St. She acknowledged, too, that she didn’t always feel comfortable being the voice for pro-center seniors, but spoke up at countless meetings anyway.
Her conversations after the groundbreaking were interrupted at times by passing seniors, stopping to thank her for her efforts.
Elizabeth Lange moved with her family from the house at 494 Washington St.—the property that, once purchased, ultimately helped spurn the project on—and returned Monday to the site where the house once stood to celebrate the groundbreaking.
“We’re really glad that it worked out this way,” said Lange, who attended Monday’s ceremony with her mother, her 7-week-old son Jack and her daughter, Emma, who was an infant when the town bought the land for north of $1 million in 2014.
“We were really happy we were able to leave and pave the way for that,” Lange said of the senior center. “This is so important to the seniors and it’s really so important to the entire community.”
Lange, a Wellesley native, was a longtime supporter of the senior center project and, in a conversation two summers ago with the Townsman, was enthusiastic about moving out of the home if it meant that a senior center would one day take its place.
She said at the time that she and her husband were ready to buy a home of their own, and they since have moved into a home on Pembroke Road a mere 200 feet from her parents’ home.
The town bought the home from Charlie Crevo Jr., whose father was also on hand for the groundbreaking, after the Planning Board rejected its bid to build the center on one side of Washington Street and have additional parking across the street.
When the Planning Board again rejected the town’s bid to build on the newly consolidated site in 2014, the Board of Selectmen filed suit in state Land Court but dropped the appeal after longtime senior center advocate Harriet Warshaw supplanted Neal Glick, one of two members to reject the proposals, on the Planning Board.
Neighbors of the project objected to the building’s placement and size, with Atwood Street residents expressing concerns about their privacy and members of St. Paul Church objecting to the building’s proximity to the church.
Bowers said the Council on Aging would ultimately be a good neighbor.
“There were definitely twists and turns, stops and starts and challenges,” Terri Tsgaris, a former selectmen and project proponent said Monday. “But it was something so many people wanted so we just kept at it.”
The Tolles-Parsons Center, which won approval from Town Meeting and voters at nearly every turn, is expected to open in the fall of 2017. It’s opening will serve as the ultimate end of an odyssey that extended beyond a decade.