Deerfield Selectboard picks company for South County Senior Center feasibility study

The sun sets over the South Deerfield Congregational Church, a potential future home for the South County Senior Center.

The sun sets over the South Deerfield Congregational Church, a potential future home for the South County Senior Center. STAFF FILE PHOTO

By CHRIS LARABEE

Staff Writer

Published: 06-20-2024 3:47 PM

SOUTH DEERFIELD — With a grant extension in hand, the Deerfield Select Board has selected edmSTUDIO, a Unionville, Connecticut-based architecture firm, to conduct a feasibility study to help the South County Senior Center determine an optimal site for its future home.

EdmSTUDIO was one of three finalists and was interviewed by the board on June 10. Select Board Chair Tim Hilchey said the firm has experience working with senior centers and EdmSTUDIO will be expected to “give [the town] an idea of how much it is going to cost to achieve what they’re going to come up with.”

The company has extensive municipal experience, as it has previously designed the South Hadley and Hadley senior centers, as well as Williamstown’s new fire station, according to its website.

The study is funded by a $75,000 Efficiency and Regionalization grant from December 2022 that was set to expire on June 30, but the town has received an extension through the end of the calendar year, according to Deerfield Planning and Economic Development Coordinator Christopher Dunne. Deerfield serves as the fiduciary agent of the South County Senior Center.

“The idea is, let’s look at what’s the best site, what are the considerations that need to be taken into account and get some preliminary designs,” Dunne said.

In its feasibility study, Dunne said edmSTUDIO will look at the South Deerfield Congregational Church, 71 North Main St., and the former Sinauer Associates/Oxford University Press Building at 23 Plumtree Road in Sunderland, as well as any other potential third sites. More specifically, the firm will evaluate the sites to see if they meet current code compliance and safety standards, determine their physical condition and assist the Select Board in “bringing the most advantageous building into alignment with the vision for future programming,” according to the request for qualifications.

The church has long been considered as Deerfield’s top candidate for a long-term home for the Senior Center, and Tilton Library is currently making use of the renovated function hall while its expansion project is underway.

All three member towns were open to exploring the Sinauer building as a long-term home, if Sunderland was able to afford the $1.8 million price tag. Discussions on the Sinauer site, however, have all but stopped in recent months, as the high financial barrier became more clear.

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Finding a long-term home for the South County Senior Center has been a long-term project for the three towns, as it has been without a home since March 2020. The center currently leases space at 22 Amherst Road in downtown Sunderland and previously leased space for two years at the Holy Family Roman Catholic Church in South Deerfield before opting to not renew the lease this spring.

Progress on the feasibility study has stalled at points since Deerfield received $75,000 grant in 2022. At a May 2023 meeting, a plan and priorities for the study were laid out, but little progress was made from there.

This winter, though, Deerfield began taking steps toward finding a company to conduct the study with the help of Dunne and the Franklin Regional Council of Governments. Senior Center Board of Oversight members said the grant had “fell through the cracks.”

“We’re excited to move forward,” Dunne said, adding that six months is a bit of a “tight schedule,” but should be plenty of time for edmSTUDIO to do its work.