Letter: Why a New Adult Community Center in Longmeadow?

Longmeadow will be voting, once again, for a new Adult Center at the Town Meeting on May 8.

At two past town meetings, the voters rejected proposals for a new center only because they did not support the location and certainly not because the voters did not recognize and support the needs of our older residents.

Last May the voters overwhelmingly supported a warrant article to fund architectural fees to build a new Adult Center at Greenwood Park in the amount of $250,000.

The voters recognized the current facility was inadequate to meet the existing needs of our elder residents, but also recognized the large demographic shift taking place not only in Longmeadow but across the country.

We have 4,509 residents over the age of 60, and 2,602 residents between the ages or 50-60. Today, elder residents represent close to one third of our town’s population, and in 10 years would be close to 45 percent. I think all of us agree that we need to address the needs of this population.

The existing senior center is located in an elementary school at Greenwood Park. Constructing a new senior center at Greenwood would provide much needed additional space, implement appropriate ADA regulations, provide privacy for the town nurse, Veteran’s agent, director, and social services coordinator.

The new center would accommodate the growing elder population. It has been shown when a new center is built by a city or town, the daily attendance doubles.

Many people believe that the existing building is functional. In fact the building is not only not functional for elders use, but is unsafe and does not meet basic ADA requirements, with 15-20 percent of the users having disability issues.

Clearly it is not functional for elder use. The facility lacks privacy for counseling, no reception area, hallways are too long, poor lighting, lack of adequate recreation space, lack of meeting spaces, poor heating, and no central air conditioning. The building is very energy inefficient.

It is true that the proposed new Adult Community Center building, that has been designed by Catlin-Petrovik Architects, is perfect. It meets all of the existing and future needs of our elders.

John Catlin is the leading architect for senior centers with both breadth and depth of knowledge of what our elders need in a facility. The design also includes a new gymnasium with a cantilevered running/walking would provide wonderful space for sports activities of all ages throughout the year.

Additionally two outdoor pickleball courts are included in the cost of the new center. The gymnasium would be available everyone. Basketball, volleyball, the high school track team, as well as pickleball could all enjoy this gymnasium. Even teams like soccer and lacrosse could exercise and practice in the gym during the winter months. It should be pointed out that when the most recent proposal for Bliss Park was being considered, a gymnasium was included in that plan as well.

The gymnasium is a community resource available for all, weekdays and weekends.

It has been said that the town of Longmeadow has the highest tax rate at $24.31 per mil, in the state. It should also be noted that other small towns, like Shutesbury, Greenfield, Wilbraham, Adams, Amherst and Pelham are also in the top 10.
This is very typical in Western MA towns due to the lack of industrial and commercial properties. However, when arranged by actual residential property tax bills, Longmeadow ($7,977 is the average tax bill) ranks 43rd in the state. In fact, discussion of our tax rate has no bearing on either our Moody’s rating, or the limitations our Select Board have established to abide by Prop 2-1/2.

Out of the operating budget of the town, this year the existing senior center has been a yearly budget of $156,000.

Clearly, there exists no parity between the expenditures for our other residents and what is spent on services for our elders, and yet our seniors bear the brunt of the costs for the schools and operating budgets of other departments.
The passage of this warrant article, will necessitate a debt override. The cost of this new, much needed facility, would be 48 cents per thousand on your tax bill. The breakdown would be:

If your home is assessed at:

• $200,000 – The increase would be $96/year or $24 per quarterly tax bill

• $300,000 – The increase would be $144 per year, or $36 per quarterly tax bill

• $400,000 – The increase would be $192 per year or $48 per quarterly tax bill

The estimated cost for the new Adult Center is $9.6 million and for the new gymnasium $4.3 million.

According to the prior architect, the Turner Park/Dietz Greenwood proposals were to be $8.3M-$9.4M without a gymnasium.

Assuming even a 7 percent construction cost increase which is conservative, we are well within the numbers previously discussed. If the town continues to delay this project the costs would increase significantly. There is no doubt that commercial construction industry is enjoying a significant rebound over the past few years.

I will add that are other senior centers like those in Holyoke, Chicopee, Springfield, Agawam, Natick, Wellesley that will all “out gleam” our Adult Community Center, with Falmouth and Scituate also in the construction process right now.

That being said, at no time was the architect instructed, at least to my knowledge, to design a building that would be dull, cheap and boring.

I cannot imagine either the Town Manger or Select Board giving this directive. It will be a beautiful addition to our town facilities meeting the needs not only of our elder residents, but also town wide citizens interested in participating at an indoor sports facility.

I will additionally add that there are no “extras” built in to this Catlin plan as it relates to the Adult Center. In fact, there are room areas that smaller than originally designed, and one room was actually eliminated. The multi purpose room was made smaller, all to keep the project at a reasonable cost, while at the same time giving the rest of the town’s residents something that is very much needed by our youth and younger adults.

Please note that not only is the Finance Committee recommending the article to the town, but the Longmeadow Building Committee also unanimously voted to recommend that the Select Board vote to include the project on the warrant for the May 2018 meeting. The Council On Aging and the Park Board have also endorsed this project.

In conclusion, at our last three town meetings our residents were very vocal that they are willing to support a new adult center at Greenwood Park. On May 8, we will have the opportunity to vote this through to the June ballot. Please show up and vote in favor of this facility that will meet the needs of our elder residents both now and in the future. It is simply time.

– By Marybeth Bergeron, Longmeadow