October 21, 2010

Senior Center Project Revived

Union Leader Correspondent

 — Two weeks ago, the public-private effort to bring a senior center to town seemed like a lost cause after a citizen group withdrew its proposal from council consideration, saying the issue had become too political.
But with two weeks to cool off and the potential of a new senior center site near downtown, Nutfield Senior Center Corporation President John Moody says his group is open to a compromise.
“We’re just in the very beginning stages of looking at that, but I’m hoping that if the town is willing that there’s a way for us both to end up with something positive,” he said.
While the Nutfield corporation has been working to bring a senior center to town for the better part of 10 years, the most recent manifestation
 came in the shape of a 5,000 square-foot addition to the existing Boys and Girls Club building on East Derry Road. 
The project was expected to cost about $1.2 million, and Moody had hoped the town would cover $795,000 of that total, split between two annual payments. 
But after what Moody called political “mud-slinging,” he notified the council two weeks ago that the corporation would withdraw all funding requests, just days shy of a council workshop on the item. 
At Tuesday’s council meeting, council Chairman Brad Benson called the abrupt move “very disappointing.” 
“I really believe that this sitting council here was going to work really hard to find some common ground that made sense financially for the seniors and the community,” Benson said. 
Benson said he hoped that incoming Town Administrator John Anderson would take up the senior center as a central project in the coming months. 
Vice Chairman Neil Wetherbee echoed Benson’s words Tuesday, defending his idea for a council-sponsored workshop. 
“While I respect that the Nutfield Senior Center group has been working on this for 10 years, to my knowledge this sitting council right now has not dealt with this issue and really all I was looking at was to get us up to speed with the background,” Wetherbee said. “... When you’re talking about that much of the taxpayer’s money, I don’t think it should be a problem to sit down and talk about the issue.” 
The exact amount of town money required for the project has been a point of confusion between the two groups. 
After receiving an initial request for $396,000, Derry Town Administrator Gary Stenhouse presented the council with a funding layout that covered the expense with money from several capital reserve funds. 
But at some point after a March public hearing, Moody informed the board that the corporation would be asking the town to supply two installments of $396,000. 
Several board members said the change caught them off guard. 
“The senior center group couldn’t raise any money, and they came to us looking for the entire package,” said Councilor Kevin Coyle at Tuesday’s meeting. “They didn’t want to admit that they couldn’t raise the money.” 
And while Moody acknowledged that the group was not able to raise as much money as it had hoped, he maintains that he told the council early on that the group thought funding a senior center was the town’s job. 
“As the economy turned around and it looked very bleak that we would be able to raise a million dollars on our own, we said, you know, we truly believe it’s the town’s responsibility,” he said. 
Stenhouse announced Tuesday that he would be working with a property owner near the downtown area to see if arrangements could be made to accommodate a senior center in an existing building. 
While Moody said he couldn’t name the particular parcel under consideration, he said he expects the town would be able to buy the property for less than it would’ve taken to build the Boys and Girls Club addition. 
If purchased, Moody said the Nutfield group would use their existing funds to outfit the building for its new use — hopefully putting the Boys and Girls Club design plans to good use — before ultimately turning the operation over for the town to run. 
“I think there’s a ray of hope,” Moody said. “And as long as you have that, you’re good to go.” 

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