| Debbie Gardner
WILBRAHAM/LONGMEADOW – With most cities and towns in America facing the prospect of an aging population, the issue of providing services for these residents is looming large nationwide. Locally, several communities in Western Massachusetts – including Agawam, Holyoke, Chicopee and Springfield – have already addressed this need, investing in state-of-the-art senior centers that can provide for the social, recreational and information needs of their elder – and in some cases all –residents.
In Reminder Publishing’s circulation area two towns – Longmeadow and Wilbraham – are currently planning to improve the services they offer their older residents by constructing new senior center facilities. Below is an update on the process of these projects.
According to Paula Dubord, director of Elder Affairs for the town of Wilbraham, the town is in the midst of an ongoing feasibility study for the construction of a new center.
“We’ve spent the last five years looking for a property,” Dubord said. “In November the committee voted to proceed with property behind the town hall. That’s where we’re at right now.”
Dubord said the Board of Selectmen appointed a needs study committee for a new Senior Center in January of 2012, and after extensive research, the committee concluded that the town needed a larger senior center facility to serve the town’s older residents. Currently the Wilbraham Senior Center operates in a space in the Scantic Valley YMCA, located in Post Office Park on Boston Road.
“We have 3,460 square feet [in the Y], which is very small for the size of the town – we have over 4,000 seniors in Wilbraham,” Dubord said. “When you add in the bathrooms and hallway [to our space] we have three activity spaces, the largest of which holds 50 people.”
Dubord said between 75 and 150 people currently use the Wilbraham Senior Center on a daily basis.
Now that a property has been chosen, Dubord said the committee expects to complete its study recommendations by “May or June” and then they will make preparations to present the proposal to the town during an Annual Town Meeting.
She said the committee is working with architect John Catlin of Catlin Petrovek Associates of Keene, N. H., who has designed and built more than 30 senior centers in the Northeast, including the new Holyoke center. Catlin is also working with Longmeadow on the design of their senior center.
Dubord said she did not expect the senior center proposal to be part of this May’s Annual Town Meeting, as all materials would need to be ready by the end of February for that to happen and “we will not be ready by then.”
“[The senior center proposal] will be at a special town meeting in the fall, or at next year’s annual town meeting,” Dubord predicted.
Marybeth Bergeron, chair of the Building committee for the Town of Longmeadow said the search for a site for a new senior center began five years ago, when citizens approved funding for the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission to undertake a feasibility study for a new facility.
The current Longmeadow Adult Center is housed in the former Greenwood Elementary School, a facility that Bergeron noted was “built for [young children] the entrance is not warm and welcoming … the layout simply does not work, it simply does not have enough room to offer residents what they are looking for with quality of life needs.”
She added the current Greenwood center – which is difficult for frail elders to access –also houses many of the services this demographic needs, such as the Veteran’s agent and Town Nurse. The overall demographics of the town also point to the need for a new senior center.
“Almost 30 percent of the population [of Longmeadow] is considered senior citizens over the age of 60,” Bergeron said. “The average is 12 percent across the state
“We are definitely above the state average,” she added.
Town Manager Stephen Crane said a volunteer building committee proposed several sites in town – all within town-owned park land- before returning to a site in Greenwood Park.
“[Residents] rejected the sites, not the proposal,” Crane said. “They rejected Bliss Park and Turner Park as potential sites.”
Bergeron said though Greenwood is not a central location for the center, elders are accustomed to the location and neighboring residents are accustomed to seniors frequenting the area.
Crane said the proposal is at “50 to 75 percent design development and we anticipate bidding the project in early spring – possibly February or March.”
Both Bergeron and Crane confirmed the town is working with John Catlin of Catlin Petrovek Associates of Keene, N.H., the same firm that is designing the proposed new Wilbraham Senior Center.
Crane could not confirm that there would be a public meeting to unveil the design before the bidding process.
“We have a volunteer building committee,” Crane said. “We may have a public meeting planned [but] the money for the project ahs already been approved in Town Meeting by voters.” He added that there might need to be some adjustments to the original building plan based on projected construction costs.
“We know we are going to have to reduce one of the spaces to meet our budget,” he said, emphasizing that the new center would still include “both social and physical options” to elder residents.
Bergeron said the current design for the new senior center plans to address the social, physical and informational needs of the towns’ growing elder population, and that the new location proposes to include some evening hours to accommodate those over 60 years of age who may still be working.
“We will have a café and the town nurse and town veteran’s agent will be in the building,” Bergeron said. “There will be a large, multipurpose room, a library with a fireplace, three large classrooms upstairs, a game room, a [gymnasium] with three pickleball fields and a basketball/volleyball court,” and an indoor exercise room and two outdoor pickleball courts.
“It’s going to be a great facility,” she said. “It’s going to appeal to the senior who is looking for healthful exercise and a little competition.”
Bergeron praised the town for its efforts to accommodate the needs of its growing elder population.
“It tool a lot of effort to get to this place, but that is pretty common with [senior] centers,” she said. “I cannot tell you how glad I am that the town is so supportive of the project.”