The question of where the town’s new senior center should be built has been dragging on for so long that some seniors question if they will even be alive when the building is completed in two, three or more years.
“Will I live that long?” asks Barbara Segall, who will turn 84 this summer. Segall chairs the town’s seven-member council on aging board. “We’ve been waiting 10 years for a facility.”
Right now, the question boils down to this: Should the town build a new senior center at 1610 Main St. in West Chatham or on town-owned land on Stepping Stones Road? The council on aging voted unanimously to back the site at 1610 Main St., which the town’s board of selectmen also unanimously backs.
Last Saturday, voters at a special town meeting approved $75,000 for a feasibility study of the two-acre parcel at Stepping Stones Road site by a vote of 297-143.
“What I’d like to happen is for the town to unite to support 1610 Main St.,” Segall said Monday morning during an interview in her home.
With over half of the town’s residents aged 60 or over, most everyone agrees that the need is great for a new senior center to replace the aging building at 193 Stony Hill Rd. In May 2019, voters at town meeting rejected building a $6.6 million senior center on town-owned land on Middle Road saying, in part, that the site was too remote. In January, voters approved a donation of 1.3 acres at 1610 Main St. from developer William Marsh, president and founder of Eastward Homes. Plans have been drawn up to build a two-story, 10,965-square-foot building there for about $8.5 million. But a group of residents whom Segall refers to as “the petitioners” recently identified the alternate site on Stepping Stones Road where they say it would be less expensive to build. This is town-owned land controlled by the Monomoy Regional School District under a 40-year lease.
Complicating the issue is that the school board voted to retain the Stepping Stones Road land and not release it back to the town.
“The petitioners have divided the town, and will cost taxpayers more money,” Segall says. She says she wants to know if the proponents of the Stepping Stones Road site will vote for the site at 1610 Main St. if the school committee “holds firm not to release the land.”
Voters at the town’s annual meeting in May will have the final say on the two sites. But if neither site garners a two-thirds majority of votes, neither site will pass, and the senior center construction plan will be delayed further. And this would be a very bad outcome, as construction costs are estimated to increase by 5 percent every year, Segall says.
Segall’s background is in education. She worked for 50 years in the field, and earned her Ph.D. in education leadership when she was 58. She notes that when she initiated programs for young people in New York state, “safety was a major, major issue.” With the question of placing the senior center on Stepping Stones Road she is again “zeroing in on safety” for the students at Chatham Middle School.
She cites a 2018 Cape Cod Commission traffic count of Stepping Stones Road. Stepping Stones Road is a residential cut-through between Crowell and Old Queen Anne roads that Segall describes as “a narrow roadway with unforgiving turns.” The annual average daily traffic volume is 3,488 vehicles. In the summer, that jumps to 4,589.
Placing the senior center on Stepping Stones Road would greatly add to the traffic. “Do we really want to bring all those cars over to Stepping Stones Road?” she asks. She believes siting the senior center there would “create more safety issues.” She dismisses as “ridiculous” the solution of shortening the senior center’s hours so that seniors were not driving at the time school traffic was either arriving at or departing from the school.
Opponents of the 1610 Main St. site say they are concerned about seniors driving on busy Route 28 in West Chatham, particularly in the summer. But Segall says the seniors are accustomed to that stretch of road already, as they go to medical appointments at the Oppenheim Medical Building at 1629 Main St. and shop locally. Also, once roundabouts have been installed in West Chatham, anyone exiting 1610 Main St. would take a right from the parking lot, circle the roundabout and return to downtown Chatham. She cites a Federal Highway Administration report that says roundabouts are “proven safety measures.”
She says the plans for the building at 1610 Main St. are “beautiful” and “take into consideration all of the program needs.” Furthermore, she adds, the senior center would be good for the businesses of West Chatham as seniors would patronize local restaurants and businesses.
It’s hard for Segall not to feel pessimistic about the deadlock over siting a new senior center.
“Every possible piece of land in Chatham has been looked at. There is no other land,” she says. “I really feel if it dies in May, it’ll never happen.”