The reaction, overall, was positive but there were some bones of contention.
Architectural consultants ARG presented the preliminary plan, which calls for the veterans to occupy the front (Hartz Avenue side) of the building and the seniors the rear. In the middle would be a large community space, which could be used by the groups for their various functions or be rented out for weddings and other events.
ARG architect Phil Rossetti presented the plan, which his company has spent the last two weeks reworking. One area that the architects looked at was the total square footage. First draft plans had the building's square footage around 14,000 square feet.
"I'm known as 'the shrinker' in the office," Rossetti joked. "We realized we showed you plans that met everyone's programmatic needs but we knew we were up to 14,000 square feet."
He said that by working with the design and cutting down on basement storage they were able to bring it down to 12,000 square feet.
"I think the design got better by tightening it up," he stated.
Rossetti said the area that took the biggest hit in reworking the design was the basement storage, which was reduced down to 700 square feet. He added that if the budget will allow they could expand the basement to add in more storage space.
Committee members were largely in favor of the plan but had a number of concerns about individual areas, one of those being the roof line along the rear of the building, where the community and senior areas would be located.
At issue was a flat roof design that Rossetti said was incorporated after hearing from some of the senior advocates that they would like to consider the possibility of a roof garden. Mayor Newell Arnerich, serving as committee chairman, said he would not support the roof garden. He suggested that some space could be created by moving some of the heating and mechanical space to that roof area.
Arnerich also asked if the Prospect Avenue entrance could be configured to provide a drop off area for seniors.
"We have young vets, and we have senior vets," he explained. "Having a drop off would make that easier." He added that the renovation is the perfect opportunity to provide that sort of functionality to both senior residents as well as older veterans.
Several other members of the committee agreed that the roof garden was a bad idea.
"I'm not a big fan of the roof garden, the technical aspects of a drip line going bad," said Councilwoman Candace Andersen. "I have an image of corn stalks coming up off the roof."
Andersen added that if the town wanted a community garden, there are plenty of parks and open space in town.
Committee member Bob Storer said that much about the exterior of the plan was confusing. Part of the problem, he said, was the Prospect Avenue elevation.
"I'm really confused on the senior roof; how it balances with the very majestic, very appealing veterans building. I think we should look at that," he stated.
He also questioned why the senior entrance has four doors leading in.
"When I walk into the vets hall it's a majestic opening, then when I get to the seniors door I don't know if it's door No. 1, door No. 2 or door No. 3."
Storer suggested making some of the doors faux, but Rossetti explained that that was not possible, saying, "If it looks like a duck and walks like a duck, it's got to be a duck."
Half a dozen members of the public offered their thoughts during the public comment section. Veteran's spokesman John Lind agreed with many of the concerns already expressed and added one of his own.
"One of the complaints I have heard about the community space is bad acoustics. I'd like to know how the roof line will affect the acoustics," he asked.
Councilwoman Karen Stepper, who has been involved in the process from the very beginning, pointed to an outside set of stairs and asked for a design that flows smoothly. "I'd like to lose that Winchester Mystery House feel and have a more cohesive exterior plan," she said.
Linda Stolow, a downtown business owner and senior, expressed the strongest opinion on the matter, calling the design "a problem." She said the layout of the restroom facilities is such that seniors will have to walk quite a ways to use them. The layout also prevents seniors from having access to the kitchen if the community space is occupied. She also questioned the size of the kitchen and its functionality.
At the end of her statements she suggested that maybe the veteran's hall should be just that - a veterans building.
"I have a dream," she said, "a dream of putting us back to where we are supposed to be, the place that was built for us - put us in the community center and X us out of this project."
After the public comments were heard, Arnerich addressed the architects, calling on them to go back to the drawing board and incorporate as much of the feedback into the design as possible.
"The challenge for you is to assimilate this and try to incorporate as much of this as you can," he said.
Architects will have two weeks to work on the design before getting together with the committee again at the next meeting, which is scheduled for 6:30 p.m., Wednesday, May 27.