CHATHAM — By a solid margin, voters at Saturday’s special town meeting approved spending $75,000 for a feasibility study for a new council on aging building on Stepping Stones Road.
But because the land is under the control of the Monomoy Regional School Committee, which has voted against releasing it back to the town, it remains unclear where – or if – a new senior center might be built.
The vote count was 297 in favor of studying the Stepping Stones Road site, with 143 opposed.
Proponents of the site say it would provide room for a single-story senior center with ample parking and access to the bike path and nearby athletic fields, on land already owned by the town. They argue that the Stepping Stones Road location is a better alternative than the primary site at 1610 Main St., West Chatham, approved for consideration by voters in January. Detailed site plans and cost estimates for a senior center at that location are expected to be ready later this month, in time for voters to consider at the May annual town meeting. The West Chatham location has the support of the board of selectmen and the council on aging board of directors.
“The council on aging building will be used for 50 years or more,” petitioner Robert Hessler told the crowded meeting Saturday. “We ought to go forward with it carefully.” Hessler said the feasibility study is needed “to provide the best possible choice for the council on aging, our senior citizens, our taxpayers and the voters of Chatham.”
Resident David Oppenheim said the Stepping Stones Road site has support from a broad coalition of voters because it provides more flexibility for a better senior center design. Building a two-story structure on more cramped land at 1610 Main St. could prove to be significantly more costly, he said. Oppenheim said he was disappointed with the school committee’s “reactive decision” against relinquishing control of the land, which it leases from the town. He said in light of this most recent vote, he is confident the school committee will reconsider its decision “and vote based on knowledge, and not emotion and conjecture.”
With passage of Saturday’s article, selectmen are authorized to begin negotiations with the Monomoy Regional School District to secure use of the 1.6-acre parcel. Town counsel has opined that the vote does not compel selectmen to do so, however.
Selectman Jeffrey Dykens said the school committee has already rejected the idea of declaring the Stepping Stones Road land as surplus. Voting to approve the design funds directs selectmen, “who have voted unanimously not to support this site, to go negotiate with a school committee who has also unanimously opposed its use,” Dykens said. In that sense, the vote is “a fool’s errand,” and jeopardizes passage of the 1610 Main St. site in May, he said.
Read the complete story in the next edition of the Cape Cod Chronicle.