By Anne O’Connor
GROTON — The need for a new or improved Senior Center is clear to the people who dove into a feasibility study for the town.
Research into data trends just blew everybody away, said Mihran Keoseian. The retired school superintendent is the chairman of the Council on Aging Feasibility Study Committee and a member of the Town Meeting Senior Center Review Committee.
Groton is following the national trends of baby boomers, he said during a coffee and conversation meeting on Feb. 25 at the Senior Center. It should have a structure that can meet its needs.
“It’s not just for now,” Keoseian said. “You try to build for the future.”
By 2029, 20 percent of the population will be seniors, according to the Population Reference Bureau.
In 2012, that figure was 14 percent.
The center will serve other civic groups. The planning considers how the rest of the community will utilize the facility Keoseian said.
After he introduced June Johnson, a lawyer and mediator who facilitated the meeting, he gave the room a task.
“Now, it’s time for you guys to work,” he said.
The 50 or so people in attendance broke into groups for a brainstorming session. Their mission was to share their priorities about the site of a future senior center, the services and programs it could offer, and thoughts on financing.
While residents were interacting, Council on Aging Director provided an overview on the planning and on what the Senior Center needs and who uses it.
“Everybody understands the need,” Kathy Shelp said. More than 700 people responded to a survey sent out with the town census in January 2016. Six focus groups provided input.
The challenge will come down to funding, she said.
Five sites are under consideration for renovations or new construction: the country club, the site in West Groton where the Senior Center is now, the Prescott School on Main Street, an available lot on Farmers Row near the police and fire stations and the former gas and light garage on Station Avenue.
It could take years before the town sees a new or improved center, Shelp said.
In the meantime, the seniors and community groups use the former VFW building in West Townsend. It is not up to current codes, she said.
Shelp pointed out how crowded the main room was with 50 people sitting at tables. For people with mobility aids, moving around is a problem.
The entrance by the kitchen has a long ramp, but the emergency exit at the opposite end of the building has only a staircase.
Town Meeting will include an article for $20,000 to build a ramp so folks in wheelchairs can get out of the building if there is a fire in the kitchen.
“It’s crazy,” she said. “I don’t want to live with that.”
Attendees, many of the Senior Center users, reassembled to hear what priorities others had for a new center.
Some were practical, like safe parking and handicap access. Others were more fanciful.
The room broke into laughter when Gail Chalmers announced that someone in her group wanted a swimming pool. Inside, someone called out.
The meeting was very productive with lots of great feedback, Keoseian said at the close of the meeting.
The next step is for the committee to compare each of the five potential sites using the same metrics and to get a value engineering plan for a 10,000 square foot building. The professional engineering plan will be done pro bono.
If all goes as planned, the committee will ask for funding for a design study at the Spring Town Meeting so that they can get “real numbers.”
If they are not ready for spring, it will happen in the fall, Keoseian said.
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