OPINION: Search for new senior center site coming down to two places

It looks as though the search for a new Meriden senior center is coming down to a contest between two locations.

I know, we’re supposed to be in the “just talking” phase of deliberations. For all we know, the committee tasked with coming up with a recommendation may decide the senior center is just fine where it is. Anything’s possible.

But one of the reasons for looking at this in the first place is dissatisfaction with the Max Muravnik Senior Center on West Main Street. It’s a general observation that the place is not meeting the needs of Meriden’s senior population — you don’t go looking for a new home unless the one you’ve got is coming up short.

Mayor Kevin Scarpati gets credit for getting this going. The interests of senior citizens need a champion and Scarpati has been filling the role. Meriden has a significant senior population, and it’s a city that thrives on tradition and respect for history.

The two sites for relocation are the former Westfield Care & Rehab on Westfield Road and 116 Cook Avenue. To give you an idea of how thorough this committee is in its approach, it’s asking the consultant to come up with a plan for each site.

As Michael Gagne recently reported in the Record-Journal, this will spur at least two developments. One, not surprisingly, is the need for more money. The other is a resetting of the deadline for the committee to make its recommendation to the full City Council, which is now September instead of early August.

As for the money, the cost of coming up with plans for two sites instead of one is $40,000. In November, the City Council voted to spend $250,000 from the city’s allocation of American Rescue Plan Act funding to pay for studying a new senior center. Plans are to bring the city’s health department along as well, since that interest could also use a new home.

When you consider the general intent of the federal funding, which is to help communities rebound from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, it’s hard to imagine a more suitable beneficiary than a community’s senior population. Seniors deserve the best the city can offer.

There’s reason to support each of the two locations the panel is now looking at. Both are not in use, for one. The former Westfield Care & Rehab, built in 1964, was used briefly as a Covid recovery center, but is available, as they say. A plan to develop it into an apartment complex came up empty late last year.

There are pluses and minuses to each of the sites. The R-J story provides details. One significant difference is that the city owns the Cook Avenue property, though there’s remediation involved, and would have to purchase the Westfield property. There does not seem to be a huge difference between the sites when it comes to how much it would cost — and the two-sites study will help make that determination.

Good reasons aren’t always a matter of dollars and cents, of course. There’s a less tangible one for supporting the former medical office building. It was part of what was left behind when Meriden’s hospital moved to the city’s outskirts in the late 1990s. That was a long time ago, long past time for the site to have a purpose again.

Reach Jeffery Kurz at jkurz@record-journal.com.


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