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Dedham back to square one in quest for senior center

Voters turn down plan to build $8.6m facility on Bridge Street

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Michele Morgan Bolton
Globe Correspondent / July 3, 2008

DEDHAM - It's back to the drawing board for Dedham officials who want the town to have its own senior center, as most towns do.

Last weekend's solid vote against funding an $8.65 million senior center sent a resounding message to officials that they have to revise the plan and try again - at their own risk.

"It's clear that a need has been identified for a senior center," said Town Administrator William Keegan. "Now the issue is whether we can create a proposal that will garner the majority's support."

The proposed facility, which would have served the town's 5,000-plus residents age 60 and older, has been a subject of discussion for two decades, with at least five locations considered, and rejected.

Obviously, the economy is not the best, Keegan said, but "the cost of building a facility will increase the longer we delay. It will just cost more in the long run."

At the same time, he said, "the need for the facility will not go away."

But seeking another vote right away also poses risks, said some.

Said James MacDonald, Board of Selectmen chairman: "My sense is a lot of people are disappointed. Some who voted 'no' believe the seniors need something, but apparently this isn't it. I don't think we'll be coming back at this for a while."

Saturday's vote was the first failed bid for a debt exclusion override in at least 12 years, said Town Clerk Paul Munchbach, a former selectman. By a vote of 1,928 to 1,572, voters rejected the plan for a 19,600-square-foot facility on Bridge Street, near the Dexter School.

Just over 21 percent of the town's 15,500 registered voters cast ballots.

"This lost in six of the seven precincts and only won in the first precinct by 12 votes," Munchbach said. "I thought the proponents did an excellent job of getting their message out."

If approved, the measure would have boosted an average tax bill by $61 a year, a figure officials said would have plateaued after other debt is retired in the next few years.

The town's Council on Aging currently offers programs and services in 2,400 square feet of rented space in Traditions of Dedham, a senior housing complex on Washington Street that has limited parking and no kitchen or bathroom facilities.

Many of the town's elderly residents use the Needham, Westwood, and Norwood senior centers, said Leanne Jasset, the Board of Health's liaison to the Council on Aging. She was at the fore of the campaign for the proposed Dedham senior center.

"It's very sad and very disappointing," said Jasset, a pharmacist at Wardle's Pharmacy on High Street.

"We want to be a well-rounded community. But people are losing sight of what would be good for everyone."

The saddest part, she said, is that the town's senior population continues to grow, and many elderly residents need services such as lunch that a senior center could provide. "For some, it's the only hot meal of the day," she said.

Jasset praised Council on Aging staff for all that they do. "But there is still so much isolation," which is detrimental to the seniors' well-being and safety, she said.

Most communities have addressed the need for a senior center "head on," she said. "But I don't think Dedham has any plans to do that."

Michele Morgan Bolton can be reached at mmbolton1@verizon.net.

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