By CHELSEY POLLOCK
Union Leader Correspondent
DERRY -- While there have been preliminary talks of moving Derry’s Meals on Wheels program from the Marion Gerrish Community Center to the Upper Village Hall, program coordinators say any changes are a long way off.
“It seems like there’s potential, but it’s just a matter everybody fitting together in the puzzle,” said David Barka, who serves on the Rockingham Nutrition and Meals and Wheels board of directors. “This would help to save a beautiful, older building that’s already there and provide as many services as we can to the community at the same time.” Barka is also a member of the East Derry Village Improvement Society, or EDVIS, which purchased the Upper Village Hall from the town a year ago and has since been renovating the historic building.
And for the past nine months or so, Meals on Wheels coordinators have been talking with EDVIS about ways the Upper Village Hall could be outfitted to allow for Meals on Wheels meals to be served at the East Derry site.
“What we decided to do was lay out a big, broad scope and then take nothing but baby steps,” said David Milz, a town councilor and EDVIS member. “At the end of every baby step, we sit down and ask if we’re happy with where we are and then say, let’s take one more.”
As the tentative proposal stands, the Meals on Wheels group would have permanent use of the building’s basement, which would be outfitted with kitchen equipment, and then have access to hall’s main room as needed, all for a reduced rent, Milz said.
If talks continue, Milz said the two groups hope to find grant funding this spring that could pay for equipment purchases and installation.
And getting on board early in the renovations would allow Meals and Wheels the chance to help design their own permanent space, Barka said.
“The Upper Village Hall is kind of a blank slate at this point, which means that any organization that wants to participate can get in at the ground floor, can maybe have some influence over the layout and configuration of the improvements,” Barka said. “And I think the Upper Village Hall could certainly use a good tenant that would make a contribution to the community.”
Barka said that moving to the Upper Village Hall would also allow Meals on Wheels to offer some expanded senior programming, perhaps in connection with long-standing plans for a senior center in town.
“We don’t want in any way to upstage or pull the rug out from the under the senior center effort,” Barka said. “But if it turns out to be too difficult or not practical in this economy, we are expending a welcome to them in a friendly way, not a competitive way.”
Town staff and members of the Nutfield Senior Center Corporation are looking into renovating a building near downtown to serve as a designated senior center, after plans for building an addition onto the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Derry were pulled last month.
But Jaymie Chagnon, assistant director of Rockingham Nutrition and Meals on Wheels, said it’s not that the Marion Gerrish building hasn’t suited the group’s needs to date.
“They are very good to us, but is it the ideal? No,” Chagnon said. “But I can honestly say that none of our sites are the idea. You can always use a bigger dining room and an area for more activities. That’s part of the reason we stay flexible.”
But Chagnon confirmed that discussions are still in the early stages, despite some rumors that a move was imminent.
“We have made no definite decision in either direction yet,” Chagnon said. “But one of the things I hope our clients know is that if we do ever move, it won’t be a surprise to anyone. We’ll keep everyone up to date.”