Board plans fixes to South County Senior Center, as planning on new building begins

  • The South County Senior Center on North Main Street in South Deerfield. STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRAZE

Staff Writer
Published: 9/27/2021 9:04:21 AM

DEERFIELD — The Senior Center Board of Oversight is again seeking a short-term location for the seniors of Deerfield, Whately and Sunderland after the price tag for South Deerfield Congregational Church renovations proved to be too expensive.

The Board of Oversight agreed at a meeting last week on a “three-legged” plan that involves finding a short-term location, remediating the current South County Senior Center for use next year and working on acquiring a needs assessment so construction can start on a new building.

The newest option on the table for an interim gathering place for seniors is the Pope St. John Paul II Center in South Deerfield, which the church has offered up for use. Seniors currently gather under a tent on the lawn of the South County Senior Center on North Main Street.

“We have to address the initial problem right now. The tent goes down Oct. 31, what happens Nov. 1?” asked Sue Corey, the Senior Center’s program coordinator. “They’re all on board to let the seniors use the facility. … (Financially), that would have to be worked out.”

Board of Oversight member and Whately Select Board member Jonathan Edwards said the church is a nice offer, but this can only be a temporary stop as the town works over the next few years for a new building altogether.

“My guess is that the Catholic church wouldn’t want us in that building for a couple of years,” Edwards said. “The only way I’m doing it is if I’m getting a timeline. … (The church) is a stop gap.”

While the seniors spend the winter months at the Pope St. John Paul II Center, the Board of Oversight is planning to work on the Senior Center, which was found to have mold, asbestos and lead paint. Board of Oversight member and Sunderland Select Board member Tom Fydenkevez said the biggest concern of those three contaminants is the mold, and remediation needs to mainly focus on that.

“For $50,000 you could basically remediate that place and get back in operation,” said Fydenkevez, who is also an engineer. “We need to get our seniors back in a building. … It’s going to take an effort, but it can be done.”

Beyond sheltering the seniors for the winter and rehabilitating the current building, the Board of Oversight is working toward a needs assessment for a new building. That process, however, can take more than a year, according to Deerfield Police Chief John Paciorek Jr., who is not a member of the board but has been involved in the search for a new building.

“The timeline, I’m not crazy about,” Paciorek said. “(The final report would come) about a year from now, and I’m hoping on a final report in four to five months.”

“If it’s going to take a year, thanks but no thanks.” Edwards said. “My opinion is a year doesn’t really do us that much good.”

The Board of Oversight will meet again in a few weeks to discuss updates regarding a short-term location.

In other business, the board discussed hiring an interim Senior Center director.

Fydenkevez commended Corey for her work in maintaining the Senior Center after the resignation of former Director Christina Johnson at the end of July and said Corey needs more help.

“We have one person, Sue, who is supposed to be working 15 to 18 hours a week, who is working way more than that,” Fydenkevez said. “How are we operating with one person now?”

Edwards said the Board of Oversight needs to hire someone while searching for a new director to better serve the seniors.

“Whether that’s two weeks, four weeks, six weeks, I don’t care,” Edwards said. “What we’ve got going on now is not working.”

Corey said she has been managing operations the best she can, but she needs help with administrative and outreach work. She added the Senior Center works with a minimum of 25 seniors a day and up to 60 on Wednesdays when it offers a farm stand.

“I’ve been holding it together, I guess,” Corey said. “We have things going on every day.”

Edwards added an interim director needs to be hired as soon as possible and said Deerfield’s hiring process needs to be accelerated. Deerfield officials at the meeting said a recommendation to the Personnel Board and Select Board is all that would be required for an interim hiring.

“Run those hurdles now,” Edwards said. “I don’t want bureaucracy to get in the way.”

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