Discussed and kicked down the road for decades, a Dedham senior center will return to front and center at a Special Town Meeting in April.
The vote will come just five months after Town Meeting members voted 108-103 to establish a Senior Center Site Committee and allocate $50,000 of town money to look at different sites for the center.
That decision rankled many supporters of a plan, which had been endorsed by the Council on Aging and a majority of selectmen, to build the center at the Endicott Estate with private funds.
The efforts of the Endicott plan’s supporters came to fruition on Feb. 14, when selectmen were presented with a petition bearing the signatures of more than 200 Dedham voters requesting a Special Town Meeting to rescind the earlier vote and move forward with a senior center at the Endicott Estate.
Selectmen promptly approved a Special Town Meeting for April 8, and supporters of the Endicott plan have begun campaigning to reverse last November’s narrow vote. However, the peitition irked some residents who feel the earlier vote should be respected and the site committee allowed to do its work.
The Senior Center Site Committee has met only once so far, on Feb. 4. David Martin, the committee’s vice chairman, said the panel will continue with its work and has scheduled its next meeting for Monday at 7 p.m. at Town Hall. The committee is slated to report back to Town Meeting in 2014.
But supporters of the Endicott plan argue there’s no need for further study.
“In my opinion, they have studied every possible site in the town over and over again,” said Norfolk County Commissioner Francis O’Brien, who was one of the first petitioners.
O’Brien said the Endicott Estate is the best site for a senior center because of its central location. The estate was left to the town in the 1960s for purposes such as a senior center, said O’Brien, who was a selectman at that time.
The November vote was very close, and a few Town Meeting members who were sick or out of town could attend this time and potentially change the vote, O’Brien added.
“I’ll be working personally calling Town Meeting members who are on the fence or didn’t show up and trying to sell them on the fact that the $50,000 can go back to the coffers of the taxpayers and the center will be built with private funds,” O’Brien said.
Council on Aging chairwoman Leanne Jasset supports the revote. Jasset declined a nomination to be on the site committee, stating she did not feel it was a good fit for her. Council on Aging members Margot Pyle and Russell Poole were nominated instead.
“Hopefully, after April 8, there won’t be a committee,” Jasset said.
Jasset brought the original Endicott proposal before the town in February 2012. A preliminary plan developed by Dore & Whittier Architects Inc. showed the estate’s barn being renovated and expanded into the senior center.
The building would be about 8,600 square feet and cost between $3 million and $4 million, all of it privately funded, Jasset said.
The decision to use private funds came as a result of residents wanting to see the center built after more than 20 years of failed attempts, according to Jasset.
But other residents worried that using private funds would cut Town Meeting out of the decision-making process.
Resident Fred Civian was a member of the group that successfully petitioned to establish the site committee last year. He and other residents objected to building a senior center on the Endicott Estate, stating that the estate filled a town need for open space.
That group of petitioners also said building a senior center could set a precedent for other structures to be built on the estate, which they opposed.
Civian characterized November’s vote as a compromise, in which the committee would look at the Endicott Estate as well as other sites in town. The committee should be allowed to do its work, he said, and the town should move forward with the decision it already made.
“The fear is that if one group doesn’t get what it wants through Town Meeting, it will decide to use whatever legal means to get what it wants,” Civian said.
Site committee vice chairman Martin, who is also a former chairman of the Dedham Finance Committee, also has his doubts.
Martin originally opposed having a new site committee for the senior center, stating that he supported the Endicott plan. But he is undecided as to whether he supports an effort to rescind the November vote.
“If 200 voters come forward with a petition, the Board of Selectmen is left with little choice [about calling a Town Meeting],” Martin said. “This is a dangerous precedent that makes it difficult, if not impossible, to conduct business if we are revisiting decisions we have already made.”
O’Brien said the important thing is to get a senior center built. He laments the fact that Dedham is the only town in Norfolk County not to have one.
“There are so many good people who have gone to their resting place that didn’t see a senior center,” O’Brien said. “I want the people that remain today to see that happen.”