Swampscott High School and Senior Center

Swampscott, Massachusetts

In a town with the same number of seniors as households with children, opportunities for intergenerational interaction abound.

Identifying the Issue:
The picturesque resort town of Swampscott, Massachusetts is not only a Boston suburb and seaside community, it is also a town that reflects the demographics of the future. Home to the same number of seniors as it is to households with children, Swampscott is in a unique position that will only become more common as the large baby boomer population ages. In the face of these demographic changes and today’s economic climate, providing adequate services and amenities for both populations can be difficult. However, Swampscott has found a way to embrace the changing population while making a fiscally-responsible decision by constructing a combined Swampscott High School and Senior Center.

Applying Innovative Solutions:
When the old high school and the senior center both needed rebuilding, the town decided to save money on building costs, operations, and land by building them together. The new building gave the existing senior center an opportunity to move from a 2,000 square foot converted three-story row home built in the 1870s (only the first floor of which was wheelchair-accessible) to 6,500 square feet on the ground floor of the new building. The new senior center, which has its own parking lot and entrance, also gets to share the high school’s equipment and facilities, including the gymnasium, dance studios, a pottery kiln, and the computers.

Reaping the Benefits:
Open since 2007, the intergenerational learning center has provided numerous benefits to the community. Students report enjoying the opportunity to see their grandparents before or after school, as well as the enriched learning experience of being able to discuss an historical event one-on-one with someone who lived through it. And while the costs to the school of building a larger structure were not reimbursed, the active presence of dedicated seniors—who provide approximately 600 hours of assistance to the library every year--has meant that the school library can stay open five days a week.

Lessons Learned:
When a new high school was first proposed, many older adults on fixed-incomes were opposed. In Swampscott, a town where there is limited space to build, and even more limited funds to build with, it is difficult to garner support for development. By building the new school as a civic space with senior center, town officials, the High School Building Committee, and the Council on Aging were able to reach an agreement. Together, these different groups programmed, planned, and designed a building that meets intergenerational needs, and taught the town that there is value added in working, living, and learning together.

Contact:
Swampscott Council on Aging
781.596.8866
www.town.swampscott.ma.us/public_documents/swampscottma_aging/index