Petitions in Hadley seek to squash or move senior center project

  • The Hadley Senior Community Center and Goodwin Memorial Library. Plans are in the works to build a new senior center and library on this site, though two articles will appear on warrant at May’s Town Meeting calling for the senior center project to be overturned or moved to a different location. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Thursday, February 22, 2018

HADLEY — Despite wide margins of support at two Town Meetings and two town elections for building a new $9 million senior center, articles will come before this year’s Town Meeting aimed at either moving the project to a new site or overturning it entirely.

Hours before the Select Board on Feb. 14 closed the warrant for the May 3 Town Meeting, Frank Zabawa and Thomas Witkos, members of the American Legion Post 271, submitted two petitions, each with 19 signatures. That was well above the 10 signatures required to have the articles considered.

The first petition seeks to relocate the new senior center from the 2.6-acre Hooker School parcel in Hadley center, where it would share the site with a new library, to a 9-acre North Hadley location on River Drive the town acquired last year, potentially to use for a new fire substation.

The second petition asks to rescind the entire $7.1 million in funding that residents have backed four times, including most recently when 61 percent favored the expenditure at a ballot vote in November.

Members of the American Legion Post 271, along with Planning Board member John Mieczkowski, blasted the plans for the new senior center at a Planning Board meeting Feb. 6, mostly because it would be built on the Legion’s overflow parking lot off Route 9, owned by the town but used by the Legion since the 1950s.

Though obligated to put the articles on the warrant, Select Board Chairwoman Molly Keegan said the board remains committed to both projects based on support from townspeople. She added that the board is charged with getting both buildings constructed and up and running.

“At this point we’re responding to multiple Town Meeting votes in favor of the senior center,” Keegan said.

She gave instructions to both the Senior Center Building Committee and the Library Building Committee to continue moving forward with planning and designs.

Willing to negotiate

The senior center project is scheduled to break ground later this year and be open by fall 2019. This would allow a new library, also approved by voters and supported by a $3.9 million grant from the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners, to be built on the Hooker School site.

Keegan said town officials also remain committed to speaking with representatives from the Legion, even though Legion officials backed out of a meeting to address their concerns scheduled for Wednesday afternoon.

The town is not interested in causing any harm to the organization and wants dialogue, Keegan said. “You have to be present to have the conversation,” she said.

The town has also pledged to allow the American Legion to use the senior center parking lot and a lighted, paved walking path connecting the buildings.

Select Board member Gerry Devine said he would be happy to sign an agreement ensuring this arrangement.

While it would mean more walking for some people going to events at the Legion, he estimates there will still be 36 parking spots at the Legion, and spaces reserved for handicapped access.

“We don’t want anybody to think all the parking is going away there, or that some of the senior-most members that utilize the facility over there will have to be walking from the senior center,” Devine said.

Library trustee Jo-Ann Konieczny said the Town Meeting petitions are not preventing the building committee from moving forward with its plans.

“It’s important we stay focused on what the town twice has voted us to do,” Konieczny said.

The Select Board approved the hiring of Mark Sullivan, president of D.A. Sullivan & Sons Inc. of Northampton, to be the owner’s project manager, and gave the OK to hire Johnson Roberts Associates of Somerville as the architect, pending a contract agreement.

Like Keegan, Konieczny said she wants to continue having conversations with those concerned about the projects so issues can be resolved.

 Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.