Pursuit of a Senior Center
By Gregory T. Federspiel
A Selectmen priority for the last few years has been to advance plans for a Senior Center in town. Residents over the age of 65 represent the fastest growing segment of our population. In a few short years over a third of Manchester residents will fall within this age group (most communities are closer to a quarter being 65 and older.)
Under the able direction of Council on Aging Director Nancy Hammond, a broad range of services are provided to our more “seasoned” residents. Advise on how best to navigate Medicare, programming from exercise classes to special outings, to luncheons (at least when COVID is not canceling these), van rides and assistance in finding needed extra home help are all coordinated out of the small basement office from which Nancy and her small part-time staff operate.
Many residents have pitched the need for a community center that can provide an even broader array of activities and services, along with a place to socialize meeting new and old friends alike. A good deal of effort has gone into exploring various options for such a center, but none have yet to come to full fruition.
Currently the Town holds an option on the Cornerstone Church on School Street. The Church is pursuing the construction of a new church near the 128 interchange further up School Street. Before the Town can exercise its option on the existing church, the congregation must raise the funds necessary for their new home and voters would have to approve the purchase of the existing church. We have developed a renovation plan that would convert the church into a very viable center for the community. The old church is extremely well built – the beams are massive and in excellent shape despite their age.
Another option that remains high on the list is the Mason’s Building new Town Hall. The Mason’s have indicated an interest in working out a shared arrangement for the building but have not fully decided on what the best arrangement is. We have tried a couple of times to come to an agreement and now await a new proposal from the Mason’s.
During the design phase of the new elementary school preliminary discussions took place about the feasibility of adding a wing to serve as a senior center. This model has been successful in other communities. In the end it was determined that there was not enough space for such a wing and, perhaps even more challenging, there was insufficient space for the needed parking.
We also explored the Hooper Building near the Fire Station. This would have been a lease arrangement with extensive interior renovations, including the need for an elevator. Too many hurdles got in the way to make this a viable option for the Town.
Other locations that have been mentioned include the old burn dump along Pine Street, the public parking lot at Norwood and Washington/North Streets, and between the parking lot at Coach Field and the existing tennis courts. The privately owned and operated Community Center next to the train station has also been mentioned. It is currently too small a space to serve the various needs. Finally, there is the option of an addition to Town Hall toward Church Street.
All of these locations have their various plusses and minuses -- it is hard to find that perfect fit. To facilitate a community discussion on options, we will host a meeting soon to hear your ideas, whether it be to advocate for one of the locations mentioned above or a new location that has yet to be explored. Can’t wait to tell us your idea? Drop Nancy Hammond a note at the Council of Aging.