Chatham's search for a place to build a new senior center is stuck. The latest assessment released last week shows that building a new facility at the Stony Hill Road location of the current senior center is fraught with problems, from a lack of space for parking to the high cost. Adding on to the community center to accommodate some council on aging programs means more cost, bifurcated programming and potential overuse of the facility. Select board members last week seemed flummoxed on how to proceed.
As proponents warned, costs for a new senior center keep rising as the process drags on. Add to that the fact that the latest proposals are smaller buildings than those proposed for town land on Middle Road and donated property at 1610 Main St., and the mistakes of the past become clear. Both the 2019 vote on building a new senior center on Middle Road and the 2021 vote on the 1610 Main St. received a positive vote of the residents present at the meetings; however, the votes fell short of the two-thirds majority required to bond the project's cost.
Whether William Marsh, owner of the 1610 Main St. parcel, would still be open to donating the land, or whether the select board is willing to fight for the Middle Road land, the path ahead seems clear: find a way to finance a new senior center that doesn't require a two-thirds vote at town meeting. This would require some creative financing, but with the significant amount of free cash the town has had in recent years, it should be doable. Town officials should put their heads together to figure this out before costs escalate even further. A majority of residents have clearly supported two past senior center proposals, support officials should harness for an outside-the-box approach.