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Senior center to trigger debate at Town Meeting (Wednesday)

May 25, 2013

BLACKSTONE – At least two members of the Board of Selectmen say they are prepared to buck the Finance Committee’s recommendation and make a case on Town Meeting floor for why voters should approve $75,000 to fund a feasibility study for a new senior center.
Expressing the most discontent is Selectman Paul S. Haughey, who chastised the FinCom earlier this week, saying the board’s decision to not recommend passage of the senior center article is an injustice to the town’s senior citizens.
Town Meeting begins at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday in the Blackstone-Millville Regional High School auditorium, 175 Lincoln St.
“It takes a lot to get my goat and this gets my goat,” an angry Haughey said at the board’s meeting Tuesday.
“The simple fact is our current facilities are not adequate for our senior citizens,” he said. “I’m extremely disappointed in the Finance Committee. I was looking to them to recommend this article and get it to the Town Meeting floor with their endorsement so that the townspeople can take it up.”
“The fact that they decided not to do that concerns me because the last time I checked, the seniors were our most valuable citizens and have probably given the most to this town,” Haughey said.
Article 10 on the Town Meeting warrant asks voters to approve $75,000 for a feasibility study and preliminary architectural study for a new senior center, community facility and public safety center. Supporters say the current senior center located in two rooms in the basement of the Municipal Center on St. Paul Street has outgrown its use and is no longer adequate to serve the needs of the town’s senior population.
The circa 1977 Municipal Center also houses the police and fire departments.
Opponents of the article say there is simply not enough usage to justify the cost of a new building in a town struggling to keep costs under control.
A similar proposal was defeated at Town Meeting last year.
In his remarks at the board’s meeting Tuesday, Haughey aimed his criticism directly at the FinCom, vowing that there will be a fight on the Town Meeting floor. “It takes a lot to get my attention, but now that you got it, don’t confuse kindness with weakness,” he said. “I am more than upset and more than concerned and I’d like to see this feasibility study move forward for the simple reason is that our townspeople, particularly our seniors and public safety personnel, should have the facilities they need.”
Selectwoman Margo Bik said she, too, will support the article on Wednesday.
“I’ve heard comments from people who say there are only four people who go down there to use the senior center,” Bik said. “It’s obvious the people saying this have never spent any time there.”
“There are a lot of people who use the senior center,” Bik added. “These are the same people who built Blackstone and have lived here most of their lives and for that reason we need to support this.”
Town Meeting voters Wednesday will also be asked to spend $75,000 to jumpstart what will be a piecemeal project to build new athletic fields at town-owned Veterans Park on Elm Street.
It’s an idea that had been talked about before, but was placed on a back burner when town officials started looking at Veterans Park as a potential site for a solar farm.
The idea, however, has apparently been scrapped and an article that would have asked voters to consider changing the use specifications of a portion of Veterans Park for ground-mounted photovoltaic solar panels is now expected to be passed over on Wednesday.
Instead, voters will be asked to approve $75,000 for the design, restoration and construction of athletic fields at Veteran’s Park, the former Red Morse property purchased by the town in 1997 for construction of a new well field.
The article has the support of the Parks and Recreation Department and Department of Public Wok Director Jimmy Sullivan.
According to town officials, the property is big enough for additional athletic fields, including a new soccer field, and the infrastructure is already in place, including electricity and water and sewer.
If approved by voters, the $75,000 would merely begin the process to get construction of at least one field started. The property already has water meters and a parking lot with light towers, so the money would be used to pay for building a roadway into the property; fixing up the parking lot; clearing brush; and grading for the fields, which could be built with artificial turf.
Town officials Wednesday will also recommend that voters pass over Article 25, which seeks approval to install ground-mounted photovoltaic solar panels at the former landfill on Chestnut Street. The article is proposed to be passed over only because town officials have since learned that town meeting approval is not required for the town to enter into a lease agreement with a solar energy developer who will finance, operate, and maintain the facility.
The plan is to lease land at the former landfill on Chestnut Street to a solar energy company that would develop and operate ground-mounted photovoltaic solar panels capable of generating between 1.5 and 2 megawatts. In exchange for the lease, the company will pay the town an annual fee, as well as supply its municipal buildings with electricity.

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