The upcoming votes at the spring Town Meeting and at the ballot box in June for the new Adult Center are a long time in coming. An upgrade from the current location in the old classrooms of Greenwood Elementary School has been discussed for many years. It was a live issue when I ran for Select Board in 2013. It has been on the Select Board’s agenda, and it has been the subject of several Town Meeting votes the last few years. The time is right to vote for this project.
If the creation of a new Adult Center could be analogized to a birth, then this project has had to go through a difficult labor. The Select Board and the town manager have been cautious, if not uncertain, proponents of this building. The first dollars that were spent to study possible sites and designs actually came about because of a vote on a citizen’s petition, not anything the Select Board put on a town meeting warrant.
The grassroots nature of this movement has been its strength and its weakness. As the town manager and a majority of the Select Board put their shoulders to the wheel of securing a site and funding for a new DPW building, they made the new Adult Center a distinct second priority. The two projects could have proceeded at the same pace, or at least could have been considered, along with the middle schools, together as part of a comprehensive capital plan. I have long favored putting all these projects on the table together and figuring out how much we can and want to pay for them.
Instead, the Select Board and the town manager slow-walked the planning of the new Adult Center in order to put the DPW vote first and to be sure the town considered the projects piecemeal. Citizens may vote for the dollars to do a site review, but it takes the cooperation of various components of town government to make it happen, or to even expend those dollars. Grassroots organizers are fairly powerless on that score.
Eventually, many ideas were considered. When I first came to the Select Board, we were looking at a fairly modest extension of the existing space in the Greenwood Center. Some members of the committee created for this project then started looking at Turner Park, and some Select Board members had grandiose ideas of decimating all of Turner Park and developing the property into a senior living complex, all with the hope that a builder would throw in an adult center for free. In 2016, a more modest proposal for taking just part of Turner Park came to a vote at the spring Town Meeting. It was defeated.
In 2017, the committee had moved to the idea of using part of Bliss Park for the new adult center. The site choice again was controversial. Proponents of the project who were “Senior Proud” came up against advocates for maintaining our parks, some of whom were seniors. The Bliss Park site choice was defeated.
The proposal now before the town places the new Adult Center at Greenwood Park, and while it does take part of the ball fields, the impact is relatively small. This is nothing like the proposed wholesale destruction of Turner Park, or the taking of the Wolf Swamp fields that been advocated for the DPW complex. With the controversy drained from the site choice, attention can properly be directed to the building itself.
The price tag on the new senior center is $14 million, which is a reflection of the expanded scope of the project and the increase in building costs over the last few years. At the beginning of my stint on the Select Board in 2013, we were looking at estimates of around $5 million. That figure was for a smaller and different Adult Center, and it was calculated when we were closer to the doldrums of the recession.
The current project has my support for two basic reasons. First, this $14 million building will benefit hundreds, if not thousands, of our town residents. Contrast it with the DPW building which residents will never see the inside of, and which did not promise any increase in services. More seniors can be served by the new center, and non-seniors will be able to use the gymnasium and other space during off-hours. Second, the design is geared toward the more active, longer living, seniors of today and tomorrow. Gone are the days when retirees would be expected to pursue only sedentary activities. The new Adult Center would promote a more optimistic view of retirement life, and it would help to make Longmeadow a place where longtime residents would want to stay.
The process that has led to the upcoming votes has not been ideal. It is a shame that we approved a $21 million DPW building without an overall capital plan, or even knowledge of how much the new Adult Center or the middle schools would cost. That, however, does not detract from the merit of this project. It ought to be approved.
– Submitted by Alex J. Grant, a lawyer living in Longmeadow. His email address is email@example.com.