Wilmington Seniors Make Case For New Senior Center, Meeting Set With Selectmen On December 16

WILMINGTON, MA — The Wilmington Elderly Services Commission will be asking the Board of Selectmen to place an article on the 2020 Town Meeting warrant to fund a feasibility study, which would serve as the first step towards building a new senior center in Wilmington.

The Commission began to make their case for a new Senior Center at their meeting on November 21, 2019, which was attended by Selectman Mike McCoy, Selectman Jonathan Eaton, and Selectwoman Jomarie O’Mahony, as well as State Representative Dave Robertson and Dick Curran from Senator Bruce Tarr’s office.

The Case For A New Senior Center: Some Highlights 

Commissioner John Wallace discussed Wilmington’s demographics.

“Wilmington has an aging population, with almost 30% of the adult population over the age of 60. When the Senior Center first opened, that number was less than 2%,” said Wallace. “The Buzzell School was refurbished and reopened as the current Senior Center in 1984… As you can imagine, this 84-year-old building is showing its age and has outlived its usefulness.”

The Senior Center logged 28,500 visits last year and currently has well over 2,000 registered seniors.

Commissioner Robin Theodos touched upon the building’s space constraints.

“The minimum recommended square footage for a building of this nature is 14,000 square feet according to the Facilities Master Plan,” said Theodos. “Our current Senior Center… has 8,308 square feet total.”

Other building deficiencies were noted in a document prepared by the Commission:

  • The walls may have Asbestos.
  • There is no sprinkler system.
  • The downstairs is unusable.
  • The drainage pipes are in poor condition.
  • The electrical systems are not up to current code.
  • The facility was retro fitted for wheelchair accessibility, but does not meet today’s ADA standards.
  • 95% of its furnishings were donated by other councils on aging, assisted living facilities, and businesses.
  • The building is not energy efficient. It has single pane windows, fluorescent lighting, limited insulation, and poor air circulation.
  • The HVAC system is antiquated, and provides brutally hot or cold spots.
  • There is no space for privacy or confidentiality for counseling and meetings.
  • The building has inadequate parking and overflow parking requires climbing ‘Mount Wilmington’.
  • No dedicated space for Memory Café.
  • No exercise room.
  • No speaker/intercom system.
  • Building is simply out of space — Center cannot add any new programs.

Commissioners Mark Ryan and Pat Robarge detailed some of the offerings a new senior center could provide:

  •  An improved and enlarged commercial kitchen for feeding seniors at lunch and providing Meals on Wheels, as well as special events
  • Serve as a warming and cooling center for state emergencies
  • Provide administrative office space
  • Fully equipped exercise room
  • Outdoor space – walking trails, victory garden, pavilion area, picnic tables, new bocce court
  • Provide a large conference room for Community Meetings
  • Foster healthy aging through programs specific to seniors. Enable closer collaboration with Lahey Health
  • Opening on Saturdays and evenings
  • Reopen woodworking group
  • Dedicated space for privacy for discussing finances, taxes, counseling, home care, etc.
  • Return the Memory Care component to the Senior Center
  • Dedicated room for computers and training
  • Dedicated room for ceramics
  • Adequate parking & handicapped parking
  • Handicapped bathrooms & raised toilet seats
  • Billiards and ping pong
  • Designated exercise room
  • Dedicated room for sewing
  • Dedicated room for arts

Commissioner Mary D’Eon noted that the Commission is in the process of visiting senior centers with similar populations to collect information about their facilities.

Officials React

“I think it’s time for the seniors to have something for themselves. I really and truly support that. I’m a senior citizen right now and I’m with you,” said Selectman Mike McCoy. “You supported the High School, the Public Safety Building, and the Middle School.  It’s about time we do something for you.”

McCoy said he would be in favor of taking $8 million from the town’s $38 million in free cash to build a new senior center now.

“I think it’s time we break open the piggy bank and do something. I’d be happy to craft an article at this Town Meeting to take $8 million out of free cash and actually do something with it,” said McCoy. “We have $38 million in free cash. Sometimes you need a little jump start. Why don’t we take the $8 million out of free cash and build a senior center now?”

“I’m with you,” reinforced McCoy, who noted he turns 61 soon. “We should [build a center] sooner rather than later. I’d be happy to craft an article for the next town meeting and… let the people decide if they want a new senior center.”

McCoy noted he doesn’t want to wait three years for a Town Meeting vote, noting that he’s been in town politics for 30 years and has seen projects get pushed off. McCoy also stressed he wants only a senior center, not a community center for seniors during the day and children at night. McCoy clarified he’d be willing to craft an article for an $8 million allocation as a private citizen if his fellow Selectmen were against the idea.

Selectwoman Jomarie O’Mahony, on the other hand, would like a feasibility study completed first before allocating any funds for construction.

“I don’t want to offer a warrant article with some random number,” said O’Mahony. “The feasibility study makes sense as the next step.”

O’Mahony noted she supported a Community Center because she saw it as a need in the town and its inclusion would have generated greater support for the project.

“I have found, in other towns, when a senior center is put with another use, the town jumps on board quicker,” explained O’Mahony. “I was trying to see what else the town needs like an indoor space for all ages.”

O’Mahony made clear she still supports a standalone Senior Center without a Community Center component.

Selectman Jonathan Eaton said he hopes that a new senior comes to fruition, noting he ran on a new senior center — along with a new fire substation — when campaigning 18 months ago. Eaton stressed he wants to continue to hear about the Senior Center’s needs and ensured the Commission that all the Selectmen care about the town’s senior population.

“I have no doubt that each member of the Board of Selectmen cares deeply for the seniors in this town. We care very deeply about the issues that confront seniors in this town,” said Eaton.

Diane Allan, a member of the Master Plan Facility Committee and the Permanent Building Committee, had a message for the Board of Selectmen.

“The Town Manager is the CEO of our town. You, the Selectmen, are the Board of Directors. You’re going to listen to the CEO with regard to money matters. However, you are the people that these townspeople vote for. No matter what the Town Manager feels is the priority, the people of this town are going to tell you what they feel is their priority,” warned Allan. “If they want their tax dollars to prioritize a senior center over a town hall or over a school administration building, that’s their pergorative, and that’s what they plan on doing. They don’t want the monemum to stop. And it won’t stop. They’re moving in the right direction.”

Allan noted that Selectman McCoy is correct — the town already has the money to replace the Senior Center with the $14 million currently in its Capital Stabilization Fund, an account that can be used for building projects.

Allan added her public support to a warrant article at the May 2020 Town Meeting for a feasibility study. She wondered aloud if an article could be crafted to include BOTH the feasibility study and an allocation for the construction costs.

In response to a question by resident Ken Clarkin, State Representative David Robertson noted that state funds are available for senior center construction projects, but there are hurdles and it’s a very competitive process. He suggested having a feasibility study conducted would be an important step in the process. Robertson said he would check in with the Executive Office of Elder Affairs for additional information about grant opportunities.

What’s Next?

The Wilmington Elderly Services Commission will be making a presentation to the Board of Selectmen at their meeting on Monday, December 16, 2019 at 7pm at Town Hall, at which time it is expected they’ll formally request that an article be placed on the 2020 Town Meeting warrant to, at the very least, fund a feasibility study for a new senior center.

Want More Information?

Watch the meeting, courtesy of Wilmington Community Television, below. The pertinent discussion begins at the 17:30-mark and lasts the rest of the meeting:

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