A group of residents are eyeing the former West School site as a place for a senior center. The city, however, is looking into marketing the property for housing. File photo

PORTLAND — A group of residents is proposing a senior center for the site of the former West School on Douglass Street, a site the city has been eyeing for housing.

A senior center on the city-owned site would keep the approximately 20,000 residents of the city who are 55 and older “active and engaged in our community,” said proponent Carol Schiller. It could offer meals, health classes, a swimming pool, arts and craft activities and travel opportunities, she said.

The hope is to introduce the concept to the City Council at an upcoming meeting, said Sally Trice, who, along with Schiller is leading a small, informal group to push for a dedicated senior center.

“Portland has a lot of seniors and people come to Maine to retire,” Trice said.”There are a lot of people who could use a facility like this that could bring people together.”

Katlyn Blackwell, chief program officer for Southern Maine Agency on Aging, said her organization is in full support of the endeavor.

“Older adults in Portland currently do not have a space to gather for socialization, recreation and exercise,” she said. “These are all very important components to aging well and staying active in our communities as we age. We certainly hope the city of Portland will agree and come to understand the need for a well-appointed space for our growing older adult population.”

Schiller said the group is using the Newark Senior Center in Newark, Delaware, as a model for Portland’s senior center. That center hosts arts and enrichment classes, offers recreational and fitness programs, lunches, trips and other services.

The intent is to fund construction of a senior center through a combination of grants, fundraising or city funding, Trice said.

“Some people have suggested making this more like a community center, but for the 55 and up folks, it’s nice to have our own space,” she said.

The city’s recreation department offers the 62+ Club, a series of activities and meals for seniors, held at various locations around Portland. It also offers trips, including visits in February to Stone Mountain Arts Center, Cinemagic Saco and Otter Preserve, for example.

Trice and Schiller see the former school property as the perfect place for a senior center, but city councilors see the land as suitable for housing. In December, the council tasked the economic development committee to look at ways the site, along with vacant city land on Randall and Lambert streets, could be marketed to housing developers.

Councilor Justin Costa,  committee chairman, said the committee is still looking at how the West Street School property could be used, but housing potential is high on the list. The Douglass Street land had been considered as a potential location for the city’s new homeless shelter, but that idea was dropped in favor of a site on Riverside Street.

“I’m not familiar with any specific interest city staff may have received, but the committee will look at the West School and other properties at some point in February or March,” Costa said. “I imagine we’ll have a discussion about any options for the property, but there’s been clear direction from the council to look at the possibility of housing so that will definitely be discussed by the committee.”

The West School site could accommodate up to 47 residential units. If the property is sold, the city may use proceeds to offset the costs of some of the city’s future recreation facility needs.

The building, which in recent years held Portland School System’s adult education program and special education programming, was built in 1962, but closed in 2013 and was subsequently demolished due to its deteriorating condition.

Comments are not available on this story.