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Seniors May Opt To Wait Versus Sharing Rec Center



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Seniors May Opt To Wait Versus Sharing Rec Center

By John Voket

Nearly four dozen seniors turned out for a Commission on Aging meeting this week to see plans and hear town officials plead their case for creating a combined recreation and senior center adjacent to a nonprofit sports complex going up at Fairfield Hills.

Despite the fact he already issued a memo to withdrawing $6.2 million in proposed funding for the facility in the coming year’s budget and Capital Improvement Plan (CIP), First Selectman Joseph Borst stood before the senior commission promoting a preliminary conceptual design.

Parks and Recreation Commission Chair Edward Marks was also on hand to try and reassure the commission and potential future users of the proposed facility that the 27,000-square-foot senior center wing incorporated virtually every feature requested to date by representatives collaborating on the project.

But one by one, nearly a dozen audience members stood and voiced opposition to sharing the facility, or suggesting they would reserve judgment until further enhancements were considered. In the first few minutes of the presentation, a petition supporting a standalone senior center was waved off by Mr Borst who at first gave a firm “No,” when asked to consider an independent facility.

“It’s a matter of economics, we’re trying to be economical,” Mr Borst said. “You are not going to get a separate building unless you want to wait five to ten years.”

Mr Marks then joined Mr Borst addressing concerns of several speakers regarding the proposed floor plan before the group. Mr Marks reassured seniors that a single shared common room on the ground floor would accommodate large gatherings or activities for seniors every day, and be available for occasional Parks and Rec needs in the evenings.

He dispelled rumors that the town was planning to move summer day camp sessions to the location, insisting his fellow commissioners would not support the idea. “We would not consider moving day camp to the rec center,” Mr Marks said.

The recreation commissioner then apologized, saying his group was approached with the idea of sharing a facility and some basic input on what seniors may want to see in the finished design.

“But I know now we’re missing the boat,” Mr Marks said.

His voice rose when Mr Marks was accused by one unidentified audience member of trying to sell accessibility to the seniors to get the project passed, with the idea of pushing seniors out of designated areas as recreation space needs increased.

“I’m not a salesman. We’re trying to work in partnership,” Mr Marks stated vociferously. He then countered rumors of seniors possibly using a Fairfield Hills laundry building as a standalone center.

“That other building is 100,000 square feet and three floors, so don’t think you will get that for your exclusive use,” Mr Marks said. He further advocated for a shared facility reminding attendees of its proximity to additional recreation offerings at the nonprofit Newtown Youth Academy, access to handicapped friendly hiking trails, and a planned future swimming complex with a zero-entry therapeutic pool.

Mr Marks said the Parks and Rec Department was ready to move forward reconfiguring plans for a single-use facility, but wanted to give the entire population of Newtown seniors and those who might use such a facility as they become qualified every opportunity to achieve a shared use.

“Just tell us everything you need, and we will design it, put a price tag on it, stage it and phase it so we can afford it,” Mr Marks said.

He added going forward, he would expect the Commission on Aging to recommend members of the senior community to be part of the team choosing both a design and the engineering firm charged to carry it out.

Senior Center Director Marilyn Place then addressed the audience.

“We initially felt sharing a Parks and Recreation center, we would get pushed out. It’s a legitimate fear,” Ms Place said to nods of agreement from several in attendance. “But I don’t want to see anger. We need a solution and we need to go forward.”

Among the ideas coming from the meeting were to revisit Shelton and Danbury senior centers, which were looked upon as having favorable designs.

“The Danbury Center is gorgeous, but Shelton has the Taj Mahal of senior centers,” she said.

In the end, Mr Borst agreed that if the shared concept was to move forward, planning would have to go “back to square one.”

“Just make sure it’s what you want,” Mr Borst requested, before adjourning the presentation, “and put it in writing.”

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