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Progress of community center stalled by senior center

The properties at 50 (left) and 46 (right) Main St. located in between Town Hall and the middle school (far left) are being considered by members of the City Council as a site for the proposed community center. Reminder Publications photo by Katelyn Gendron
By Katelyn Gendron

Reminder Assistant Editor

AGAWAM One of Mayor Susan Dawson's top priorities for Agawam during her campaign the creation of a community center -- will have to sit on the back burner for some time while she tackles vehicle parking inconsistencies at the site of the new senior center on Main Street.

Dawson told Reminder Publications that she has delayed any further development of the proposed community center until working out an increased number of available parking spaces with the adjacent Housing Authority this week. "I can't sign off on the bond [for the senior center] until those [parking] issues are ironed out," she said.

Dawson said despite the delay she is committed to carefully reviewing the final report submitted to the mayor's office by the Community Center Assessment Committee on Dec. 24. She explained that she will do her best to put Agawam on the right path toward a community center within her term.

"I am dedicated to it over the next two years but I don't know where I'll be able to fit it in," Dawson explained. "The former administration left me with a level funded budget and that puts me almost 18 months into my administration before I can arrange funding as I see fit."

Dawson said she will be working closely with Anthony Bonavita, chair of the Community Center Assessment Committee, in the near future to discuss costs and locations proposed by the committee.

"I think that the children of Agawam don't have anything they can go to and be a part of," Dawson said. "In my opinion the community needs planned activities that foster positive relationships. Currently we don't have anything [like a community center] where everyone can be included."

Dawson said she is weighing the cost-benefit analysis of each of the proposed sites for the center. Two of the sites strongly recommended by the committee -- the barn located on School Street and Shea Field on Armory Drive -- have their pros and cons, Dawson added. She explained that the barn's historical integrity must be maintained and that it's also an aging facility, which would not lend itself to a long life as a community center. The land at Shea Field is owned by the town but as no building exists on the site, the community center would have to be built from the ground up.

In addition to the aforementioned sites, City Councilor George Bitzas has proposed another location not included in the final report from the assessment committee -- the land between Town Hall and the middle school on Main Street.

Two private residences exist between the two buildings -- 46 and 50 Main St. -- one of which is currently on the housing market for $209,9000, according to Heidy Fontanez of Russo Real Estate, which currently represents the owner of 46 Main St.

Bitzas said he has proposed this location for the community center because it will create a town common partnering Town Hall and the middle school. He explained that the town would buy both properties from the residents for a fair market value and the center would be built with the same "historic character" as its two adjacent buildings.

Bitzas said in his opinion the proposed barn is too small for a community center and is too far from downtown. He added that an additional site would be needed because the barn could only be used for historic or cultural events, not recreation.

City Councilor Cecilia Calabrese, also a member of the Finance Committee, said she is in support of a community center on Main Street because of the convenience of access, location and parking. "I think that's something that makes a lot of sense to have a nice contiguous piece of property there. I just think it's a great idea and something that the council should be looking into further," she said.

Director of Parks and Recreation and member of the Community Center Assessment Committee Christopher Sparks stressed the importance of having a community center because of his department's inability to accommodate all activities due to a lack of available facilities.

Sparks explained that if granted a community center, the Parks and Recreation Department would be able to offer the community many more programs for adults and youth such as theater, dance and alternative forms of recreation.

Sparks said he and other members of the committee are waiting until Dawson is ready to move forward on the proposed community center before furthering their efforts. He said the committee will also discuss their proposal of having a Boys and Girls Club or YMCA as opposed to a town owned and operated community center.