Select Board hopefuls discuss senior center, homelessness
AMHERST — Space issues at the Bangs Community Center are prompting Council on Aging officials to begin exploring construction of a new senior center, but candidates for Select Board say there are no easy ways for a new home to get built.
At a forum sponsored by the Council on Aging Friday, candidates discussed the possibility of a new building, ensuring appropriate housing for seniors on fixed incomes and maintaining funding for programs for the elderly.
The four candidates competing for two, three-year seats in Tuesday’s election indicated it likely won’t be a quick process to get a new senior center because of other pressing infrastructure needs.
Andy Steinberg of 17 Hitching Post Road said he understands the competition for capital money, including a new South Amherst fire station, renovations to Wildwood and Fort River elementary schools and possible expansion of the Jones Library.
“What I really encourage is that the needs of a senior center get placed in line as quickly and forcefully as possible into the joint capital planning process,” Steinberg said.
Connie Kruger of 15 Hop Brook Road said senior center advocates should develop site criteria and possibly an intergenerational design, working with another entity, to make funding more readily available. “I would be encouraging a look at design options that you could share space,” Kruger said.
Helen Berg of 902 North Pleasant St. said she advocates constructing a new senior center at the corner of East Pleasant and Triangle streets where the Kendrick Place building will break ground.
“Why do we need a five-story mixed use building?” Berg said. “Let’s make the Kendrick Place site the new senior center.”
John Boothroyd of 22 Longmeadow Drive said Council on Aging officials should contact Habitat for Humanity, an agency that assists individuals with less-expensive private construction. “I support infrastructure and I support everything for the senior center,” Boothroyd said.
The ability to downsize and remain in Amherst is a concern for some seniors.
Boothroyd said he is an advocate for the town having more middle-class families and more jobs available.
“We really need to think hard about affordable housing and think about it from different perspectives,” Boothroyd said.
Kruger said there is a demand for housing for seniors, as well as families. “I would like to offer housing options across a spectrum of needs,” Kruger said.
Berg said senior citizens could remain in homes as parts of extended families. “I believe seniors should be treated that way,” Berg said.
Steinberg said the problem for those on fixed incomes is the high cost of housing, which could be addressed through providing more student housing. “We’re not going to be able to do it by focusing singly on one group,” Steinberg said.