Sunderland Selectboard mulls feasibility of buying Plumtree Road site for new Senior Center

Sunderland and South County Senior Center officials plan to explore the 23 Plumtree Road property to see if it could serve as a new home for the center.

Sunderland and South County Senior Center officials plan to explore the 23 Plumtree Road property to see if it could serve as a new home for the center. STAFF FILE PHOTO/CHRIS LARABEE

By CHRIS LARABEE

Staff Writer

Published: 12-07-2023 2:59 PM

SUNDERLAND — With a potential South County Senior Center location sitting on the south end of town, the town is beginning to weigh if the site’s high price tag is financially feasible to purchase.

Over the last few weeks, discussion on the former Sinauer Associates/Oxford University Press building at 23 Plumtree Road has gained steam, with all three South County Senior Center member towns, plus the center’s patrons, expressing interest in the 12,000-square-foot building.

Colebrook Realty Services is listing the property at $1.95 million and a town appraisal valued the site at approximately $1.8 million, which Town Administrator Geoff Kravitz thinks is close enough for them to submit a “competitive offer” — if the town is willing to put up such a large amount of money.

“We’re in the ballpark of being able to put in what I think would be a competitive offer. It would require a debt exclusion,” Kravitz told the Selectboard. “I don’t think anyone would deny it’d be a wonderful senior center and a great use of that building, but I at least wanted to raise the financial implications.”

A firm financial picture was unclear Monday night — the town had calculated incorrect estimates — but Kravitz said Tuesday that a 30-year fixed mortgage at current rates would equate to an approximately $80 increase to the average tax bill in Sunderland.

While supportive of the idea, the Selectboard was wary of the price of the building and urged careful thinking before moving forward. Part of that wariness is the town has passed several budget overrides since 2017, including a $275,000 capital override in May of this year.

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Selectboard Chair Nathaniel Waring said there are “obviously some financial questions” and the town should do its due diligence before deciding if it wants to pass up a great opportunity.

“Do some number crunching and look at it later. … I’d love to get as good of a picture as you can,” Waring said. “This is sort of a unique opportunity; I wouldn’t want to say, ‘Pass,’ without doing as much as we can.”

Over the years, Senior Center members have been vocal about the need for a permanent home. The center used to be located in the 1888 Building on North Main Street in South Deerfield, but it closed in 2020 due to the pandemic. In 2021, the discovery of mold and asbestos led to the center leaving the site entirely.

Seniors briefly gathered at a tent outside the 1888 Building in 2021, until late fall when the Senior Center moved into the Holy Family Roman Catholic Church. Then, in 2022, the center began leasing an additional administrative space in Sunderland. The three towns have been examining long-term options for the center — the South Deerfield Congregational Church has been at the top of the list — but progress has been slow.

All three town selectboards, as well as seniors who took a tour of the Sinauer Associates building several weeks ago, have expressed their support for the building, which could also serve as Sunderland’s municipal offices or some other community use.

Among other things to consider, Selectboard member Christyl Drake-Tremblay said, are the electric bill for such a large building and how much space a senior center would need in comparison to any other potential uses.

Even if the town were to get its affairs in order, she added a buyer could always swoop in and purchase the building before a Town Meeting and special election could be called.

“There’s nothing that says tomorrow they’re not going to get an offer,” Drake-Tremblay said. “And then we say, ‘That was a nice dream.’”

The South County Senior Center Board of Oversight is expected to discuss the matter. In the meantime, the Sunderland Selectboard plans to continue analyzing the financial implications of the purchase to be ready if the town does decide to move forward.

“Let’s crunch as many numbers as possible,” Waring said. “Move as quickly as possible so we can get all of our ducks in a row.”

Chris Larabee can be reached at clarabee@recorder.com or 413-930-4081.