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Scituate senior center debate heading to Town Meeting

Posted by Jessica Bartlett  February 7, 2014 12:42 PM

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A simmering dispute between Scituate seniors and town officials will be brought to Town Meeting floor with a proposal to spend $25,000 analyzingthe needs of the senior population.

The study will look at town amenities and programs for seniors, who are hopeful the results will point to a senior center that elder residents have been craving.

“We needed to start at ground level and get a study done to figure out what the needs of town of Scituate are,” said Joanne Ball, president of the Friends of Scituate Seniors group.

The idea of a new senior center has been embroiled in controversy since 2012, when town officials shot down attempts to put specifically senior amenities in the Scituate Harbor Community Building. According to officials, a restriction on the property says the building has to be used for everyone.

Instead, town officials envisioned a revamped Town Hall at Gates Middle School, with senior amenities in a wing of the building.

The preliminary plans only generated more outrage. Seniors protested that square-footage was nearly half of what they needed, and released a flyer in November urging something different.

Seniors and town officials came together in a contentious public meeting shortly thereafter, and the sides have stood firm ever since.

Ball hopes that a study will highlight the more expansive senior needs, and offer a comparison to other towns.

“If we went with a needs study, and took it to town floor and found out what our needs are, we would get somewhere,” Ball said. “…Seniors built this town, and they have been kicked for a few years. They have been kicked down whenever there is talk of getting a better place.”

The proposal needed 10 signatures to be put on the Town Meeting warrant, but Ball said they obtained 35.

Talks regarding the study have been under way with the Center for Social and Demographic Research on Aging at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. But if the funding is approved, the work would likely be put out to bid.

The plans are a new development as town officials try to find a solution to the 23-year-old dilapidated Council on Aging building on Brook Street.

“We all agree that the senior center is a top priority for the town,” said Selectman Tony Vegnani. “We have to figure out a way to get a better one in place as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, there is so much else going on right now.”

Vegnani was unsure where the funding for the study might come from, or whether he would support it.

“I don’t think it’s a bad thing. I don’t know if we need it,” he said. “I want to talk about it a bit more of what you’re going to get for it. But we do studies for a lot of the initiatives we do, sometimes it gives us some good information back.”

The discussion would go to a vote with selectmen and the Advisory Committee before it gets to Town Meeting floor, but all petition warrant articles are put on the warrant regardless of official approval.

The Friends group plans to garner as much support for the project regardless. In an email blast, members said a presentation will be made to town officials to explain the funding request.

Members also pointed to similar studies that have occurred in Hingham, Cohasset, and Marshfield.

“Often by the end of these projects, even before [the] formal presentation of results at Town Meeting, towns have already taken steps to address the needs they've discovered in the process. In many cases these steps included plans for a new senior center,” members said in the email.

Whether the proposal gains the support of the town's senior representative is still up for debate.

Council on Aging Director Linda Hayes said she is working with the Friends group, but realizes the town has a different plan.

“I am trying to bring the sides together, and help everyone understand how it should best work…” she said. “In the end, I do feel the town has a plan and I work for the town, and we will support that whatever that may be.”

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