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Committee reveals growing need for new senior center

Date: 11/12/2012

By Chris Maza

WILBRAHAM — Members of the Senior Center Building Needs Study Committee offered their findings and stated their case for a new senior center in Wilbraham at the Board of Selectmen's Nov. 5 meeting.

Dennis Lopata, chairman of the committee, presented the board with a nine-page report, complete with definitions and figures that he said illustrated a growing need for a new facility.

"Wilbraham's needs show that we have an inadequate senior center," he said. "In 10 years, our senior population could increase by as much as 16 percent."

Included in the package were figures comparing Hampden County communities with comparable senior populations — Agawam, Belchertown, Chicopee, East Longmeadow, Hampden, Holyoke, Long-meadow, Ludlow, Monson and Palmer — and the size and usage of their senior centers to that of Wilbraham.

The data illustrated that area senior centers averaged 15,384 square feet in size for an average senior population of 4,838, or an average of 3.18 square feet per senior. The Wilbraham Senior Center measures 3,840 square feet for 3,612 seniors, an average of 1.06 square feet per senior.

Director of Elder Affairs Paula Dubord told the board she believed a space measuring approximately 12,000 square feet with the option of expansion as the senior population expands would best serve the community.

Delving further into the numbers, Lopata showed that on average, senior centers in comparable communities devoted 2,351 square feet to nutrition services while Wilbraham's facility offered just 346 square feet.

General recreation areas in the study group measure nearly 3,000 square feet to Wilbraham's 1,114. Both medical facilities and exercise areas averaged 1,763 elsewhere, while those same areas were a meager 307 and 576 square feet, respectively, in Wilbraham.

Lopata added that there were also "two key pieces" of the data collected from a resident survey that supported the committee's assertion. The first, he said, was the fact that 40 percent of respondents said they had visited other senior centers in Ludlow and Hampden.

The largest numbers were among those who went elsewhere for meals (43 percent), recreation (30 percent) and for craft classes (20 percent).

"Regularly, over 135 people logged into Ludlow and Hampden senior centers," Lopata said.

Dubord explained to the board that Ludlow and Hampden use the same computer registration system as Wilbraham and because of that, the committee was able to track the number of residents who attended those centers.

The second aspect of the survey Lopata said was alarming was the fact that 25 percent of respondents said they were denied access to Wilbraham Senior Center programs due to lack of space.

Selectman James Thompson said that he recognized the need and said that now the town would have to explore the issue of funding, warning that the study results are just the beginning of a very long process.

He suggested that more would be known about the space needs of the rest of the town once the building committee completes its space study. He said while it may not directly lead to space openings for a senior center, it could provide solutions for other departments that in turn could create space through a "domino effect."

Selectman Robert Russell said it was his understanding that the study would be completed by January or February 2013.

Russell also said that he recognized the need, but added that the town must take into consideration that its population of young people is also on the rise as more Wilbraham children entered kindergarten this year than graduated Minnechaug Regional High School.