Amid frustrations, Ashfield weighs leaving Senior Center

  • The Arms Academy lot is one of two short-listed sites for a new Shelburne Falls Senior Center. As plans to build a new three-town facility drag on, Ashfield town officials raised the idea of building a center for Ashfield at a Monday Selectboard meeting. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • Shelburne Falls Senior Center Director Cathy Buntin socializes with guests at the Shelburne Falls facility. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

Staff Writer
Published: 7/10/2019 6:08:07 PM

ASHFIELD — Should Ashfield remain part of the three-town senior center as it continues to find a site to build a new facility in Shelburne Falls? Attendees of Monday night’s Selectboard meeting weren’t so sure.

The conversation was prompted by a “request for information” survey created by the Senior Center Expansion Committee and distributed to Selectboard and Finance Committee members from the Senior Center’s three member towns: Buckland, Shelburne and Ashfield.

Ashfield’s Selectboard, Finance Committee and Council on Aging members all agreed that plans to build a new center are taking far too long. Some members raised the idea of building a new center or renovating a current space in Ashfield, saying the 20-minute trip to the Shelburne Falls facility is too far to travel for many seniors.

Doug Field and Wayne Wickland, members of the Council on Aging, aired grievances about the length of the planning process, which they say has spanned two-and-a-half years — and a site is still yet to be selected. Field and Wickland also said members from the other towns failed to consider the perspective of Ashfield residents. They added that the Senior Center Foundation, a nonprofit created to raise money for the new center, has not started fundraising, but plans to start when a site is chosen.

Ashfield would need to give a year’s notice to leave the center, Field said. It has been done before, though; Colrain left the then four-town Senior Center several years ago.

Selectboard Chairman Tom Carter agreed that the process was taking too long, though he warned against “throwing stones” between towns.

“It doesn’t really help us move forward on the situation,” Carter said.

Calling plans to build a new center “foggy,” Carter proposed Ashfield consider building its own center that would include housing for elders, which he called a long-standing need.

“At some point, at some level, everybody agrees that some amount of senior housing inside of the community would be of big value,” Carter said.

Carter also questioned the need for a senior center, pointing out that towns built and expanded schools in recent decades, anticipating an influx of students, and now many buildings are half-empty.

“I know there’s a need,” Carter said. “Although we did all kinds of studies and built these schools … and look at where we are today.”

Selectman Steven Gougeon noted that it is difficult for the Selectboard to weigh in on plans when little progress has been made.

“The biggest concern for me at this point is that we can’t do anything until there is some kind of a plan, or even a rough plan,” Gougeon said. “There’s just nothing, just thin air right now.”

Carter motioned to discuss the project at a September meeting, with his fellow board members voting to approve the measure. He reasoned that a meeting in September would give the Selectboard and those involved in planning the center enough time to figure out a plan.

Some meeting attendees raised concerns about Ashfielders feeling isolated, if they decided to go it alone. Finance Committee member Lindy Gougeon suggested that, regardless of the outcome of the new center, townspeople should ensure there are opportunities for seniors to gather with residents from other towns.

“I’d love to see an investment in Ashfield for seniors, but I also don’t want to see seniors isolated,” Gougeon said.

Shelburne Falls Senior Center Director Cathy Buntin said there are no formal discussions about Ashfield removing itself from the three-town center. She noted that “everyone is working hard” to find a site.

At the moment, there are two possible plans for a new senior center: building a new space next to the former Arms Academy, or renovating its current location at the Mountain Lodge of Masons.

A site review of the Arms Academy lot is currently underway to assess the feasibility of building a new facility there. This building is projected to cost roughly $4.76 million to construct. Results of the site review will be discussed at the July 16 Site Subcommittee meeting.

Meanwhile, the Mountain Lodge of Masons recently offered the center an opportunity to renovate or occupy more space in the building. The Senior Center currently occupies the first floor. Details of this proposal are not yet publicly available for legal reasons, Buntin said.

At the moment, Ashfield, Buckland and Shelburne pay taxes to attend the Senior Center. In return, residents from these towns receive priority to attend programs, though others living in non-member towns can also attend classes if space allows, Buntin said.

Reach Grace Bird at gbird@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 280.




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