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Holyoke starts talks on new senior center

Date: 10/20/2009

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

HOLYOKE -- An outdoor pavilion, a music area, a computer room -- all of these and many more suggestions for the new senior center were made during the first meeting between the project managers of the proposed facility and Holyoke seniors Thursday evening at the War Memorial.

About 20 seniors met with Council on Aging Director Kathy Bowler and Frank Kennedy and Tim Singleton of Diversified Project management, the firm hired by the city to oversee the new senior center from vision to design to construction.

Kennedy said the goal is to create building with a 50-year life span.

"We have one shot so we want to get it right," Kennedy said.

Bowler said the current facility in the basement of the War Memorial serves 700 to 800 people a month and offers a wide variety of programs. She said that when asked why the city needs a new senior center, she replies, "Well the easy answer is look around you."

Bowler said a primary problem is inadequate space for programming as well as a lack of private spaces for consultation with social workers and nurses.

"It's like coming into a dungeon," said one woman.

"It sure is," replied another.

Singleton cautioned the seniors the process to a new center would not be quick. Right now the completion date from construction is expected to be be June or July of 2011. He explained that each step, such as site selection -- there are currently 20 under consideration -- and the choosing of a designer, architect and construction company -- all have requirements that take time.

Kennedy added the process would be a pragmatic one with the effort to get the best building for the budget.

Singleton said the site selection process would take into account a group of criteria, including parking potential, access via mass transit, whether ort not the city already owns the property and brownfield considerations. Ultimately the choice, he said, would be up to the mayor, the City Council and the Building Commission.

Two of the sites mentioned in the discussion are six acres the city owns near the Holyoke Geriatric Authority and the Ann McHugh school building.

When one senior brought up renovating an existing building instead of constructing a new one, Kennedy said the demands of the Americans with Disabilities Act often make renovations more expensive.

Mayor Michael Sullivan has asked the City Council to approve a $4.5 million bond request to pay for the new center, although the Friends of the Senior Center will also be asked to conduct a fund-raising campaign as well, Bowler said.

One woman, who identified herself as the caretaker of her husband, asked for greater consideration in planning for the handicapped in the new building. She said that where the pushbuttons are placed to open doors are very important and that the doors shouldn't swing out, potentially striking a person in a wheelchair

She added there should be a handicapped only restroom facility so a caregiver can accompany someone in a wheelchair into a lavatory.

Among the other suggestions were:

• a computer room;

• keeping all of the present programs offered by the center but in a new space;

• sensor lights to save money;

• a health clinic area;

• access to WIFI;

• and shower facilities.

Security is also an important issue as well said several seniors.