MERIDEN — The City Council’s Human Services Committee this week unanimously supported creating a panel to study the future of the Max E. Muravnick Senior Center.
The one-page resolution, indicating the current center continues to operate with no significant renovations or upgrades over the last 25 years, now heads to the full City Council for a vote.
The resolution names the proposed seven-member committee as the Senior Center Building Review Ad Hoc Committee.
Members would be appointed by Mayor Kevin Scarpati, who proposed the resolution.
Two of those members would be current elected members of the City Council — each member likely from a different political party caucus — while another two would be current members of the Commission on Aging and Disabilities. The final three members would be other Meriden residents.
The resolution language states the committee “shall review the current and future planned uses of the Senior Center, the consideration of a new location and prepare a report to be submitted to the Council by July 1, 2023 summarizing its findings and making recommendations, if necessary, for the relocation and construction of a Senior Center, which may include infrastructure needs for other Health and Human Services Department offices.”
City Councilor Bob Williams Jr., who serves as vice chair of the Human Services Committee, described the resolution as something that is “definitely needed.”
“It’s certainly been a while since we’ve seen any upgrade in the facility,” Williams said, adding, “Our senior population continues to grow.”
Williams stated it should be the city’s objective to move forward on an improved senior center “as soon as we can.”
Scarpati, who addressed the Human Services Committee, explained the template and timeline for the proposed committee is taken from other building review committees the city has formed in the past.
For example, the mayor noted, a similar committee formed for the city’s library was given a one-year timeline to come up with its recommendations for that building. This building committee’s timeline would be several months shorter than that.
Scarpati said the discussion around the senior center has been ongoing for “quite some time.” The mayor noted there is a need for an enhanced facility “that is going to deliver something much more modern for our seniors.” Such a facility, he said, may incorporate increased outdoor spaces “as well as a much more friendly and useful indoor space.”
Scarpati explained the committee would meet over the course of several months, gathering input from the public, as well as current senior center staff. That feedback would be gathered through focus groups and other discussions, as well as consider potential locations for a new senior center building.
The mayor stated Lea Crown, the director of the city’s Department of Health and Human Services, City Manager Timothy Coon, and current senior center director Rick Leigl “all are on board” with the proposal to form the committee. Scarpati said he’s heard from community members interested in joining the committee once it is established.Options left open
City Councilor and Human Services Committee member Bruce A. Fontanella had concerns about the “if necessary” language contained in the resolution.
Scarpati explained the language of the resolution, which had gone through a few iterations, was previously vetted during leadership council discussions.
“It was felt there should be enough leeway for the committee to come back to council and not recommend anything be done. So that is why that language is in there … to potentially say it may be a simple remodel, which, I think we need far more than that,” Scarpati said. “It could be a new build or it could be nothing. It was leadership’s directive to basically have the ability to recommend any of those options and not handcuff them to one specific task.”
Fontanella said it appears to him the language of the resolution doesn’t really give the committee power to consider three different options for the senior center.
“It seems like it’s only giving it the power to consider a new location,” Fontanella said.
City Councilor Krystle Blake, who chairs the Human Services Committee, said those options appeared to be laid out in the resolution, giving the committee the leeway to recommend to leave the structure as is, rebuild, renovate, or explore other options, including an entirely new building.
“I don’t think the verbiage limits the committee,” Blake said.
Scarpati, in response to Fontanella’s concern, explained that part of his mission in putting the resolution before the council “was also to deliver and express the need to do something.”
“When I first drafted this resolution, my intent was for a new senior center to be a constructed as a new build. Leadership gave me the directive that they felt they wanted it to be a bit more vague and not necessarily just handcuff the committee,” Scarpati said. “The intent was to figure out what the senior center would look like.”
“This was something I felt, we need to get the point across that we recognize there is something far better the seniors should have by way of a senior center,” Scarpati said. He noted further that the resolution also speaks to other needs of the Health and Human Services Department.
That department itself operates out of a facility, the Stoddard Municipal Building, which Scarpati said “is beyond its end of life. We are going to have to look to resolve that issue at some point also.”
The mayor explained the resolution’s language is intentionally not too specific, nor is it “so vague the committee didn’t feel as though it had no direction.”