Community celebrates ‘tenacity’ that resulted in Adult Center

By Chris Maza
Longmeadow News

LONGMEADOW – At long last, the construction of a new Adult Center is underway.

After years of debate and delay, more than 200 members of the community gathered at Greenwood Park to celebrate the groundbreaking to kick off the building of the 26,000-square-foot facility on July 11.

“Tenacity,” Adult Center Building Committee Chair Marybeth Bergeron said when asked what kept the project moving forward in spite of nearly a decade of roadblocks.

During the ceremony, state Sen. Eric Lesser called Bergeron “a force of nature” and Town Manager Stephen Crane credited her with almost willing the project into existence through all of its phases as well as its defeats, including previous town meetings such as the 2016 Special Town Meeting at which a proposal to build the Adult Center at Bliss Park was soundly rejected by residents. With perseverance, the Building Committee succeeded with their second proposal for Greenwood Park at the May 8, 2018 Annual Town Meeting.

“When we failed the last time with Bliss Park, it was a huge disappointment for the whole team. But I got up the next morning and said, ‘What was the goal?’ The goal was to have a new senior center, so I called a meeting that day for a couple of days hence. The goal didn’t change; it was just the location that might change,” Bergeron said. She added the community’s support for seniors and the project was “tremendous” and John Catlin of project architects Catlin + Petrovick said he had never been to a groundbreaking with such a turnout.

Crane told those gathered that the work that went into making the groundbreaking possible was a reflection on the community as a whole.

“It’s a great day both for how long it took us together and for what it says about our community for the teamwork and the support that went into making this project a reality,” he said. “This isn’t the end of anything; this is the start of something. The teamwork and the collaboration are going to be even more important as we get this beautiful new facility built and have it live the fullest life it can and make the maximum use of our great new space for both the senior population and the broader Longmeadow community.”

After thrusting her fist in the air and proclaiming, “We did it,” Select Board Chair Marie Angelides said, “In eight years, everyone in this room has struggled and has suffered and has built the foundation already. How many meetings did you sit in? How many discussions? How many arguments? How many long, long Town Meetings did everyone sit through?”

Commending past and present members of the Council on Aging, she continued, “The amount of effort that has gone into this has been amazing. Their blood, sweat and tears has already built this foundation. And all of those people who sat through those long Town Meetings, this is your building too because this is your accomplishment too.”

Additionally, State Rep Brian Ashe recalled, “When I was on the Select Board years ago, I knew how important a new senior center was, but these things don’t happen overnight. I know we wish they would and I know a lot of people put a lot of effort in. I know there were some frustrations over the years because things seemed to be going too slowly or seemed to be taking a step backwards. But in the end, we got where we needed to go and I think it’s going to be an absolutely spectacular senior center and I am so proud to be a part of this.”

Thirty percent of Longmeadow’s population is 65 years old or older and several who spoke at the ceremony said the $14 million project would present seniors and the community at large with a facility capable of satisfying the needs of today’s aging populations. Plans include indoor and outdoor fitness and wellness, dining, activity and community areas while complying with Americans with Disabilities Act regulations as well as much-needed private areas for the town nurse, veterans services and social services. Council on Aging Director James Leydon said he was excited about the opportunities the new space would provide.

“There’s going to be a very diverse blend of programming that’s going to meet a bunch of different needs for the Longmeadow community, specifically the senior population,” Leydon said. “We’re going to be able to elevate our programs to do many different things that are of interest to seniors, but also the Longmeadow community as a whole. We’re able to do that somewhat here in our current facility, but in the new building, the possibilities are endless because we’re going to have so much more space. As people age, they age differently and they want different things. This is going to completely enhance the seniors’ experience when they go into that facility.”

Along with celebrating the commencement of construction, which will take approximately 14 months, the ceremony served as a platform to unveil a new nonprofit entity, the Longmeadow Adult Community Center Fund Inc. (LACCF). The nonprofit’s goal is to raise additional funds not included in the budget to fully furnish and equip the building. Bergeron explained these efforts are not uncommon for projects of this nature.

“Frankly, we have a line item in the budget for $200,000 for furniture, fixtures and equipment,” she said. “That is nowhere near enough money to provide the items that are needed for a 26,000-plus-square-foot building. We have identified a list of items that we are hoping to fund – and that is before the Building Committee has identified additional items that we might want to upgrade and probably should upgrade for the longevity and sustainability of the building.”

The list of identified items includes the installation of a permanent generator, pickleball courts, solar panels, charging stations, shelving for the food pantry, equipment for the kitchen, and various technology pieces. A full list can be obtained by the LACCF.

The LACCF raised nearly $250,000 of its $1 million goal during its silent fundraising phase and has a number of naming opportunities ranging from $250,000 for the gymnasium to $400 for windows. Friendly Ice Cream Co-Founder S. Prestley Blake and is wife Helen additionally made a “challenge pledge” of $50,000. Donations over $1,000 will be included in a Wall of Honor. For more information, call 413-262-7661.