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Questions remain about viability of Fountain Park as senior center site

Date: 9/24/2015

WILBRAHAM – Questions still remain about Fountain Park as a viable site for a new senior center.        

One of the main talking points during a meeting between the Senior Center Feasibility Committee and the Wilbraham Nature and Cultural Preserve Board of Directors on Sept. 15 was the process of allowing for a potential senior center at Fountain Park, which would need legislative change to the deed in order to be approved.

Before the matter could be brought to the state it would need to come before voters during a Town Meeting.

Senior Center Committee member Nicholas Manolakis said the committee voted at its last meeting against Fountain Park as the top preferred site because it could possibly take more than two years to receive legislative change on the deed.

“The reason we’re here today was to give you guys the opportunity to say, ‘Is this something the board wants to do?’” he added.

Nature and Cultural Preserve member Tracy Plantier said the board would have to examine its master plans for Fountain Park to see if a senior center would fit into their designs.

“Do we still want that original vision for the park?” she said. “I’m not sure if everyone here was aware, but there were bigger plans for Fountain Park with additional buildings, cleaning up the buildings that are there, and some removal of buildings that are there. But of course, the big question is finances. I don’t assume that this project for a senior center would even try to take on any of that larger plan. That would be a huge question in putting up a senior center.”

Senior Center Feasibility Committee Chair Dennis Lopata responded to Plantier by stating that he doesn’t have that “magic bullet” answer regarding the question of whether the senior center would fit with the vision of an expanded Fountain Park.

Nature and Cultural Preserve Director Jules Gaudreau said there is an acre of land at Fountain Park that located behind equipment storage spaces that is “completely useless” to the board.

“You take those buildings out of there – those buildings are garbage anyway – they’re terrible looking, they’re impossible to maintain, they’re not secure, and they’re not in the right space, so that said, If you open up your mind to say, ‘They’re out of there,’ there’s quite a bit of land there,” he added.

Gaudreau said the board still has an artistic rendering of its vision of Fountain Park that included a large community center incorporating the current barn with a 200-seat theater room with a stage.   

“When the economy sort of collapsed [in 2008], everybody thought the sky was falling,” he added. “The impetus to go out and raise $3 or $4 million was simply not there … There was no possible way we could have raised that money in this community at this time.”

Manolakis asked the board what its interests would be in having the senior center located at Fountain Park.

Gaudreau responded by stating that it would bring more visitors to the location.

Lopata said the town currently leases 3,840 square feet for the senior center from the Scantic Valley YMCA Family Center for $75,000 annually. The Parks and Recreation also rents space at the Y, with the total cost of yearly rent being approximately $90,000.

“The Y is growing and actively looking to perhaps take some of that space back,” he added. “The town is currently negotiating with the Y with regards to that space, but it is nowhere near the approximately 15,000 to 20,000 square feet that we really need to manage the needs of seniors.”  

He noted that the Y is also looking to increase its annual rates.

Lopata said the lack of space at the current senior center is costing the town in terms of visiting seniors, who choose to go to neighboring towns such as Ludlow, East Longmeadow, and Hampden instead.  

The Senior Center Committee is also exploring another site – 758V Main St. – located on 7.26 acres behind Christ The King Lutheran Church. The Friends of the Wilbraham Seniors recently announced its plans to purchase the property pending approval from the town.

Lopata said the committee would discuss Fountain Park in more depth during its next meeting.