The Senior Center Exploratory Committee (SCEC) met with the Board of Selectmen Tuesday evening to discuss where they are at in relation to their project, but the hearing ended much as it began with no concrete location or cost decided for a new senior center.
Jim Healey spoke on behalf of the SCEC and stated "we see ourselves as coming into the stretch drive."
"We've been charged with looking at the need, location, size and cost associated with a new center," he told the selectmen seated across the table from him. "I think everyone agrees that the basement of the Palmer (building) is not the place for seniors to spend the remaining years of a productive life. We need to have a new building for the senior center and the Council on Aging."
Healey stated that, upon determining three possible sites, the committee sent out a survey to residents and received over 1,000 comments and concerns. "We looked at them all," said Healey.
Healey related that cost changes in the projects since they were selected have taken shape and that the price tag, not location, is the key thing that needs to be considered right now. Healey stated that he and the committee would like to move forward, but that they needed a clear timetable from selectmen on when to complete their work.
Selectmen Chair John Bulian was not convinced that things could move ahead at their present juncture.
"I don't consider this a final report. We're at a crossroads," he said, stating that other sites should be now looked at since a clear consensus was not found among the three previously selected.
Healey was insistent that locations could not be determined until the SCEC had access to finances involved. Some Selectmen, though, were reluctant to have the committee determine what the town could afford, as opposed to simply examining the best sites for a center.
"We've never had a group that looks at sites and a building's needs that also decides what the town can afford," said Selectmen Jerry Wasserman. "The SCEC looks at what is the best building for the town."
Selectman Moe Handel reiterated that location must be the focus of the SCEC.
"It seems the issue that's dividing us the most is the location question," he said. "Once we achieve the location, we can solve the financial dilemma. The last meeting I attended was very contentious and saw angst over each possible location for one reason or another."
"We will look at other sites," Healey answered, "but you have to be prepared that we'll have a recommendation that doesn't have 100 percent consensus in town."
Handel replied that he agreed with Healey, but that "the locations so far don't come close to a consensus."
One of the issues discussed last night included the size of a potential senior center. The space at the Palmer site currently offers seniors 6,000 sq. ft. and splits programs up among seven different locations. Plans for a new center have called for everything from 10,000 to 30,000 sq. ft. in the last decade, according to Selectman Dan Matthews.
"I'm satisfied that sharing Greene's Field is possible and it's the lowest cost, but I also know that it's a contentious location," Matthews said. "Sometimes you don't get a consensus, you just get the best recommendation."
Matthews also backed the idea that the SCEC should have access to financial information, saying, "They look at size, cost and location. Those are all interwoven. They're not deciding anything; they're trying to give a recommendation and they need direct access to that information."
A motion for the SCEC to request budgetary information from the Town was granted by a vote of 3-2.
Selectmen additionally voted for the SCEC to consider three new sites for a senior center:
- The Emery Grover Building
- The Needham Heights Commuter Rail property
- Expanding the existing Wingate property
The three aforementioned sites join Green's Field, Rosemary St. and Ridge Hill as potential locations.
Selectman Denise Garlick, who is also a member of the SCEC, supported looking at other sites, but also cautioned that $45,000 has already been spent on the feasibility study for the previous three sites.
"The consensus is not that we all get to a happy place," she said, "but what it is that we can work with."
Healey agreed with Garlick. "We're gonna meet with the COA and discuss size," he said. "We're ready to go to work. No one's taking a summer vacation."