Chatham voters head to Veterans Field on June 12 for the annual town meeting, delayed a month due to the pandemic. Scheduled to begin at noon under (hopefully) sunny skies, the session includes a number of significant measures in the 64-article warrant. Among them are nearly two dozen requests for Community Preservation Act funding (half held over from 2020), and a final resolution to the long quest to build a new senior center.
There is sufficient money in the community preservation account to cover all of the requests. All are worthwhile projects deserving voters' support, but we have to question why some, such as improvements to Sears Park and redesign of tees at Seaside Links Golf Course, shouldn't be in the town's regular budgets. The golf course work, especially, should be coming out of the rental fees paid by the course operator. CPA funds may not be around forever, and a number of these projects should be prioritized within department and capital budgets.
One CPA article is worth singling out, however: the $243,250 request to preserve the former Stage Harbor Coast Guard boathouse. There is widespread support for bringing this historic structure back to town from Quincy, where it has spent most of the past decade. Restoring it at 90 Bridge St. to house the town's shellfish upwelling system – an approach endorsed by the select board – will at least in some measure help make up for the loss of many other historic structures in recent years. It's a worthwhile project that we endorse.
It's been more than a decade since the town began planning for a new senior center. A myriad of options were examined, none of them perfect. The proposal to build a $8,395,555, two-story facility at 1610 Main St. in West Chatham is the best of the bunch. It will provide the council on aging with adequate space for its current programs as well as future growth, while accommodating, through technology, the flexibility the pandemic showed benefited the town's growing senior population. The new facility will enhance the recently upgraded West Chatham village center, providing a consistent year-round focal point that will help support local businesses. Much of the criticism of the proposal has centered on this not being the right location, but the exhaustive vetting process revealed that it is. A competing proposal to build a senior center on Monomoy Regional School District property on Stepping Stones Road is a non-starter due to the school committee's decision not to give up the property (the proposal will nonetheless appear as a petition article at the very end of the warrant, a disingenuous move by the select board, which should have placed it right after the 1610 Main St. measure).
The uncertain future of the Chatham Elementary School makes that an attractive choice for a new senior center for some. The location is right, and the single-story building, with plenty of parking, seems a perfect fit (part of it did house the council on aging many years ago, when the agency was not as robust as it is today). But the school department is unlikely to give up the building as long as the town retains its own elementary school, as required under the regional agreement and as demanded by many residents. Sharing the Depot Road building is a more likely scenario, but even if possible, it would require several million in renovations and would be years away.
Other objections to 1610 Main St. – dangerous traffic in West Chatham, the building is too large and too close to the airport – appeal to various fears that are ungrounded in reality. Chatham's growing population of seniors need their own facility, and the town, with its absurdly low tax rate (which is only going to get lower as property values increase), can certainly afford it. At long last, we urge voters to support the senior center proposal at town meeting as well as the debt exclusion question at the June 17 annual election to fund the project.
Next week we analyze a number of town meeting articles that attempt to address the affordable and attainable housing crisis.