Three-town Senior Center meeting provides dialogue, few concrete solutions

  • From left, Robert Manners, Sylvia Smith, Jackie Walsh, Tom Carter, Andrew Baker, Lindy Gougeon and Carl Satterfield listen during a meeting on a new Senior Center Wednesday night. Staff Photo/Maureen O’Reilly

  • Sylvia Smith (far left), Jackie Walsh (center left), and Andrew Baker (far right) listen as Tom Carter (center right) speaks about a new Senior Center on Wednesday night. Staff Photo/Maureen O’Reilly

  • Karen Blom (far left) speaks as (left to right) George “Larry” Langford, Zachary Turner, Barry Del Castilho, Todd Olanyk, Steve Gougeon, and Matthew Marchese listen during a meeting on a new Senior Center on Wednesday night. Staff Photo/Maureen O’Reilly

Published: 12/6/2019 6:03:51 PM
Modified: 12/6/2019 6:03:39 PM

SHELBURNE FALLS — Members of the selectboards and finance committees of Ashfield, Buckland and Shelburne met Wednesday to discuss the ownership model, financial model and location of a proposed Senior Center.

“My hope tonight is to take each of these pillars and talk among ourselves,” said Shelburne Selectboard Chair Matthew Marchese.

Who will be in charge?

The two-hour long meeting provided what some of its 16 participants viewed as much-needed dialogue, although strong conclusions remain elusive.

“We’re playing this, ‘What comes first, the chicken or the egg?’” Marchese remarked as the group discussed what should come first, deciding on an ownership model or finding a way to fund capital and future operating costs.

“I came away from (a September) meeting (thinking) that the joint, three-town model of ownership is (best),” chimed in Shelburne Selectboard member Andrew Baker. “It still leaves the question of management.”

“I would lean more toward a regional model,” added Buckland Selectboard Chair Zachary Turner, noting that there are many regional models nationwide.

“I think what’s really (complicated) about this big ball of yarn (is looking) at the ownership model without looking at the funding model,” said George “Larry” Langford, a member of the Buckland Finance Committee.

Throughout the evening, the role of contingency was brought up for funding, because each town’s government must secure municipal funding through a town vote.

Size and function

Participants brought up other concerns, like changing demographics, services offered and looking into a smaller Senior Center.

Many participants voiced concerns about how changing demographics — with the number of senior citizens expected to rise — may echo the bubbles of school-aged children the region saw decades ago, which prompted more school buildings, many of which now have greatly reduced student populations.

For this reason, Shelburne Finance Committee member Deborah Andrews said she wants to see a new Senior Center have the ability to have other uses.

Buckland Selectboard member Barry Del Castilho said he wants to see plans for a smaller Senior Center; current plans offered by Jones Whitsett Architects are for an 8,200 square-foot location.

Ashfield Finance Committee member Carl Satterfield argued that a larger building would mean more programs, and, hopefully, increased participation.

Immediate problems and next steps

For Shelburne Selectboard member Robert Manners, though, the three towns are putting “the cart before the horse.”

“Why aren’t we fixing the immediate problems?” Manners asked, like updating the bathrooms at the current Senior Center, which only has one bathroom.

“Because that’s not the question that was presented to us,” Turner said.

Many participants agreed with Manners that bathroom issues should be addressed, given the years before a new Senior Center will be ready; however, no one leaped at the idea given that there would be costs associated with renovating a building that may be vacated if the Senior Center is built elsewhere.

Senior Center Expansion Committee Chair Sylvia Smith told the town officials that the committee is looking at a consultant company, Project Planning Professionals, to coordinate further steps for the proposed Senior Center. The floor was yielded to Daniel Pallotta of Project Planning Professionals for brief remarks.

“I hear people trying not to go far (into the project),” Pallotta said, of hearing the participants speak back and forth. “I’d like to see you start with an agreement,” he said, adding, “I think we can help.”

Seeking Ashfield feedback

One question on the minds of Buckland and Shelburne representatives was how Ashfield and its residents felt about a proposed new Senior Center. Ashfield Selectboard member Steven Gougeon provided an update from two meetings this fall: one on Nov. 18 where residents heard about the proposed options for the Senior Center and gave feedback, and a public forum on senior services on Sept. 16.

“We’re obviously the town farthest away. What we heard a lot (on Sept. 16) was not necessarily (a need) for a brick-and-mortar Senior Center,” Gougeon said, adding that Ashfield residents voiced interest for funding in-town services, like health, wellness and support to age in place.

“This isn’t withdrawing from the Senior Center,” said Gougeon, a sentiment reiterated throughout the dialogue by Gougeon and his fellow Selectboard members.

Reach Maureen O’Reilly at moreilly@recorder.com or at 413-772-0261, ext. 280.


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