October 7, 2010

A bitter turn for senior center

“Mudslinging” leads to the Nutfield Senior Center Corporation’s decision to pull back its request for town funding for an addition to the Boys and Girls Club. 


Union Leader Correspondent

 — After years of buildup and months of debate, the Nutfield Senior Center Corporation has withdrawn its request for town funding for an addition to the Boys and Girls Club, leaving the future of the center in the council’s hands.
The proposal would’ve added a 5,000-square-
foot structure onto the existing 26,000-square-foot Boys and Girls Club building on East Derry Road to serve as a designated space for town seniors, according to Nutfield corporation president John Moody. 
But after months of what Moody called “mudslinging,” the group voted last week to scrap their $792,000 funding request for the $1.2 million project. The decision was announced publicly at Tuesday’s council meeting. 
“The problem is that instead of looking at the positive aspects of this, it’s become both political and personal, and I think that is very unfortunate,” Moody said in an interview yesterday. “Quite frankly, a group of really dedicated senior citizens have worked very hard to do something in the community and received nothing but criticisms.” 
The Nutfield corporation was originally formed about 10 years ago, Moody said, and has since worked through several different options for bringing a designated senior space to town, including a look at the Upper Village Hall. 
But a few years ago, Moody said, the group worked out a deal with the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Derry where seniors would be able to build an addition on their site and use the larger Boys and Girls Club space during off hours. 
The corporation financed formal designs for the project and earned a $400,000 federal grant to outfit the building and fund initial operating costs, Moody said. 
The Nutfield group then initially requested $396,000 to fund construction of the addition, with the understanding that the group would raise the remaining money, said Derry Town Administrator Gary Stenhouse. 
Stenhouse said he presented the council with a funding layout in February, which would’ve covered the $396,000 with money from several capital reserve funds. 
But after a March public hearing, the council voted to postpone decisions to allow the Nutfield group to answer questions posed by councilors and a group of residents opposed to the project, Stenhouse said. 
Among several concerns voiced at the March meeting, Councilor Neil Weatherbee said councilors were worried about being able to recover the money spent to build on private land if the senior center were to close down the line. Others wanted to see the center built in the downtown area, he said. 
At some point after the meeting, Stenhouse said Moody informed the board that the corporation was asking the town to supply two installments of $396,000, equalling a total of nearly $800,000 toward the project. 
A planning workshop meeting was scheduled for Oct. 12 to include councilors, the corporation and members of other town committees. After receiving Moody’s letter Tuesday, the council voted to cancel next week’s meeting. 
Weatherbee said he was surprised by the corporation’s actions, saying he wished the group would’ve met with the council for further discussion first. 
“It may be a situation where we can’t work it out and can’t give (Moody) the money that he needs,” Weatherbee said. “But right now, I just don’t feel like we’ve got a lot of facts to deal with, so it’s unfortunate that the workshop was canceled.” 
But Moody said he believes it is the town’s responsibility to fund a senior center. 
“They need to step up to the plate,” Moody said. 
“Now we’re looking for a commitment from the Town Council to advance this project and we’ll let them do it,” he continued. “I have no stake in this project other than to see a senior center built for Derry. I would be more than happy to give up the Nutfield Senior Center Corporation part of this.” 
Jim Barton, who has been a part of the corporation since the beginning, said the decision to bow out was not an easy one. 
“I’ve been working on this for a long time, and it looked like it was going to happen in March,” Barton said. “It is disheartening, and it’s too bad it has to come to this. We were shovel-ready and there was just no desire from the political arm in the town to do anything but postpone it.” 
Barton and Moody agree that if the council abandons plans for a senior center altogether that the corporation would try to fund the project privately. 
To that end, Weatherbee said the council will still need to weigh its options, which he said could include the construction of a new multi-use facility to serve both recreation and senior purposes. 
“If this is going to be off the table altogether, I think the council has to at least come up with a plan,” Weatherbee said. “Is it something we’re going to finance in the next budget? I tend to doubt it in this economy, but if nothing else, we need to come up with a long-term plan.” 

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