Deerfield committees set sights on Senior Center, church renovations

  • Deerfield Police Chief John Paciorek Jr. presents the financial estimate for renovations to the South County Senior Center at a Connected Community Initiative meeting. SCREENSHOT

  • Deerfield has set its sights on rehabilitating both the South County Senior Center, at left, and the South Deerfield Congregational Church. STAFF PHOTO/CHRIS LARABEE

Staff Writer
Monday, November 29, 2021

DEERFIELD — Staring down the barrel of tens of millions of dollars in capital improvement projects across town, the Connected Community Initiative laid out its priorities for the South County Senior Center and South Deerfield Congregational Church last week.

Members of the umbrella committee, made up of representatives from each town board and committee, came to an agreement that they must conserve both the current Senior Center — which is also the old grammar school — and the South Deerfield Congregational Church as they update and repair them.

Senior Center, Town Hall

The initial plan is to house seniors in the South Deerfield Congregational Church for several years as the town renovates the Senior Center, which has seen limited use due to the pandemic and mold in the basement. Both buildings are on North Main Street. Once remediation is complete, Town Hall operations will move into the Senior Center and the current Town Hall, located at 8 Conway St., will be renovated or torn down and replaced with a new “Senior/Community Center.”

Select Board member Carolyn Shores Ness said this plan would provide much-needed support for the seniors of Deerfield, Sunderland and Whately while also creating a linked town center.

“Everybody has been shortchanging the seniors for years,” Shores Ness said. “The whole point is to connect — the Connected Community Initiative … from the town common to the Leary lot to this square of town-owned buildings to the elementary school to Frontier to the (North Main Street) park.”

Finance Committee Chairwoman Julie Chalfant said the Senior Center has a lot of potential for Town Hall use and the 90-year-old building would qualify for Community Preservation Act (CPA) funding.

“If you go around and don’t look at the mold or rat droppings … it’s a very, very usable space for municipal kinds of things,” Chalfant said. “It is a historic building so we can use CPA funds and we should be refurbishing this building.”

Deerfield Police Chief John Paciorek Jr., who has helped lead the search for a new Senior Center, said the town should plan on moving Town Hall to the Senior Center when renovations are finished as town offices can function much better on several floors than a senior center can.

Paciorek also reached out to Easthampton-based Dietz Construction to receive an estimate on design plans. He said for $6,500 the company will design a renovation plan and assign offices to the Senior Center building while projecting additions to the building, such as an amphitheater for meetings, an elevator for handicapped accessibility and a backup stairwell.

“They will provide us renderings that we can cycle committee to committee,” Paciorek said, “and decide if this is a road we want to go down.”

South Deerfield Congregational Church

Beyond the Senior Center, Paciorek and Select Board ChairmanDavid Wolfram have been meeting with Deerfield Academy officials to create a plan to renovate the South Deerfield Congregational Church, which the town owns, at a cheaper rate than what the town could get. Paciorek estimated the school could do the project for under $100,000.

“I’d like Deerfield Academy to explore doing the renovations in full on their money,” Paciorek said. “It allows DA to hire their own contractors to get the job done immediately and effectively.”

Paciorek explained the school retains its own contractors and could get started on the project much sooner than the town could. In exchange, the school would reduce its annual donation to the town by $120,000 for one year.

The town set aside $150,000 for repairs and renovations to the church at a Special Town Meeting in October, but that money could be cycled back into free cash if Deerfield Academy accepts the deal.

Paciorek said the process for building a new Senior Center is long and drawn out, and it’s “reasonable to put $100,000 into the church” while that process begins.

“We know it’s going to take three to five years for a design and build of a Senior Center,” Paciorek said. “To get them in a permanent building is going to take a while to do it right.”

To be used as a temporary senior center, the church needs a handicap-accessible restroom, an outdoor ramp and several minor improvements along the lines of repainting walls and refinishing the floors.

“The DA renovations are minimal,” Paciorek said. “There’s no design necessary; it’s not changing anything about the building. Instead of an office, you’re putting a handicap-accessible bathroom in.”