New Falmouth Senior Center Needed, But Where?

CARRIE GENTILE/ENTERPRISE - A full house at the senior site feasibility working group's public forum Wednesday night at the Hermann Foundation Meeting Room at Falmouth Public Library. Residents weighed in on the potential new sites for a large senior center that would replace the facility on Dillingham Avenue.CARRIE GENTILE/ENTERPRISE - Anne Columbo of Falmouth asks why the working group is considering sites that are not available now to the town.

The Hermann Foundation Meeting Room at the Falmouth Public Library during the July 30 public forum was replete with residents of all ages anxious to discuss where Falmouth’s new senior center will be located.

Falmouth’s senior center feasibility working group, which was charged with site selection, presented seven options that made their cut from the 40 public and private locations they considered.

During the 90-minute forum, it became clear many residents are disgruntled that a functioning elementary school is on the pared-down list.

Teaticket Elementary School parents voiced objections over supplanting the school for a senior center, asking what will happen to their children and the teachers. Another parent said they had recently raised money for lock-out shades and a new basketball court. From the back of the room, another parent said she was not ready to give up on the school.

Judith Fenwick, member of the Falmouth School Committee, stood up to speak, clarifying she was not speaking on behalf of the committee.

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“Falmouth Public Schools are not at this point considering abandoning the building and probably won’t even look at that for another two to five years. What is your time frame for the senior center build? And why are you looking at other properties not currently available?” she asked.

In response to her question, working group member Brenda B. Swain clarified that the group was charged with looking at all municipal buildings. Their availability would be a factor as the site selection narrows.

“Please understand that no one is taking it over. We don’t know what the school’s time line is, so it would be irresponsible not to look at something that may be abandoned in the future. The time lines may work or not, but that is above this committee’s work,” she said.

Resident Anne M. Columbo of Cooper Road asked why the working group was still considering the school, the Augusta parcel and the Gifford Street parking lot—all sites that are not available to the town for various reasons and whose future is still unknown.

“This is all very redundant. I don’t understand why we are still considering these,” she said.

Along with Teaticket Elementary, the group also presented as possible locations two other town buildings to be tailored for seniors: the School Administration Building and the Gus Canty Community Center. The four plots considered for new construction include land at Falmouth High School, a 23-acre town-owned Augusta parcel behind Falmouth Lumber on East Falmouth Highway, the Steamship Authority’s Gifford Street parking lot, and land adjacent to Falmouth’s dog park on Brick Kiln Road.

The working group discussed at an earlier meeting that the town wants to reserve the Augusta parcel for a possible future wastewater site, and the Steamship Authority was not ready to part with their parking lot on Gifford Street.

The group used a set of 21 criteria to evaluate the sites. Top of the list is for it to be centrally located, large enough for Falmouth’s increasing population of seniors, and easily accessible.

Other considerations are the ability to add lifelong learning classrooms, a café and kitchen to support wellness and social interaction, and land for outdoor recreation. Working group chairman James A. Vieira said the town asked them to look carefully at redevelopment possibilities.

Gina L. Palanza of Lewis Neck Road said she liked the idea of building a senior center on the site of the town’s Gus Canty Community Center, which is used often by teens and young adults.

“I see it as a way to bring the community together,” she said.

Sandra L. Cuny, a member of the recreation committee, echoed the statement, saying Gus Canty should be considered for further review.

Assistant town manager Heather B. Harper spoke on the site’s pros and cons. She said the heavy traffic and potential conflict with other activities on site could be a detractor, but that its central location and possibility for intergenerational programs are a plus. She speculated that the senior center could be built where the current parking is, and the parking could be moved to the rear of the community center, with new access paved to Dillingham Avenue.

The School Administration Building is being looked at in two ways: either retrofit the historic building or build a new facility on site.

“If you take my softball field away, you’d better build me a new one,” Ms. Cuny said.

Mary K. Bishop of Trotting Park Road commented on the state of the aging building.

“The renovations to the downstairs would be enormous. It’s damp, dark, and the pipes are covered with some unknown stuff,” she said.

Revamping the building could be expensive since it has limited handicapped accessibility. It is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places, which could pose further renovation problems. Some attributes listed were its accessibility to two major roads and proximity to businesses and amenities.

Thomas K. Durkin of Waquoit Highway said of all the sites, Falmouth High School is most appropriate.

“It’s centrally located, with easy access to all Falmouth neighborhoods, has walking trails and tennis courts,” he listed. He also liked the idea of creating intergenerational programs with high schoolers.

Ms. Fenwick asked about competing land uses at the high school.

“These are the recreational interests,” said Ms. Harper. “We know there is interest in building another sports field, but wanted to ensure people understood that the town would work collaboratively with the school on selecting a location,” she said.

The board of selectmen will consider the seven sites, using feedback from the forum,  and select which sites should be studied in depth by a consultant. The request for proposal is slated to be issued in August.

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