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Consensus on senior center eludes Salem city council

Posted by Terri Ogan  March 13, 2013 11:11 PM

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Salem residents pay close attention to a presentation during a senior center meeting.

Salem city council members failed to reach a consensus Wednesday night on a proposed plan for the city's long overdue senior and community center.

The issue of a new facility has been under debate for more than 20 years.

Over 100 residents attended a meeting Wednesday where Mayor Kimberley Driscoll pushed for the city council to approve her proposal for a $4.9 million bond that will fund a new center, a plan that she presented almost two months ago.

After nearly four hours the council members refused to take a stand on the matter, as Driscoll urged the council to do so.

“I don’t give into peer pressure,” said City Council President Jerry Ryan. “I’m sorry.”

The council members are set to vote on the senior and community center tonight at their monthly meeting, although Ward 3 Councilor Todd Siegel said he won’t vote until the March 28 meeting.

Siegel said he thought it was “unfair to the people that couldn’t make it,” and couldn’t watch it on TV because the meeting wasn’t televised as normal.

Throughout the meeting, which was held at the current senior center, residents and council members conveyed both their support and opposition for the newly proposed facility, which would be located at the corner of Boston and Bridge Street.

“When we have an opportunity to get out of this building, which is falling apart,” Driscoll said. “And go to a spot that is desolate and getting no use, and will bring in tax revenue, I’m not only putting my hand up, I’m running to that.”

The private/public project entails a one-story 20,000-square-foot facility, 273 parking spaces, in a vacant area where a Sylvania plant once stood. The construction time is estimated at 12 to 15 months.

Ward 2 Councilor Michael Sosnowski opposes the location of the proposed project due to environmental issues in the area.

“Ask for proper funding on the proper spot and you will get my vote in a heartbeat,” Sosnowski said. “Enough is enough let’s get it done and do it at the right place.”

But James Willis of Pickery Street supports the proposal and said he is growing impatient with the new center that has yet to break ground.

“I’m 38-years-old this year,” Pickery said. “I’d like to see something built in time for me. I’m in support of the mayor’s proposal. It’s a viable site.”

In 2009, the city council approved the Boston and Bridge Streets site, but some citizens and council members wanted to revisit the issue for reasons including the fact that the proposed center would not be a “stand alone” building.

The new senior and community life center would be constructed as part of a joint commercial development known as Gateway Center.

Driscoll said in the meeting that building a stand-alone facility would not bring in the tax revenue needed to offset the proposed bond to fund the new center. The current proposed plan would bring in $450,000 of tax revenue per year.

“Will it be perfect? Will it be everyone’s dream? Probably not,” said Matt Veno, chair of the Senior Center Committee. “Every site the senior center committee looked at had its pluses and minuses. If we continue to cling to that and grasp to that for the ideal here, we’re going to miss, what I think, is a truly fantastic opportunity to finally deliver on this promise.”

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