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Dedham seniors show support for Endicott Estate proposal

Posted by Dave Eisenstadter  March 4, 2013 10:16 PM

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With the town headed toward another vote on the future of Dedham's senior center, the idea of locating the center at the Endicott Estate won a show of support Monday night.

About 50 residents attended a Senior Center Site Committee meeting, with several wearing bright yellow T-shirts that proclaimed their support for the Endicott plan.

The meeting came a week and a half since selectmen were obliged to call a Special Town Meeting in April after more than 200 petitioners asked to dissolve the committee in favor of moving ahead with the Endicott plan.

As committee members discussed the best way to proceed in selecting sites for the center, residents in the audience, speaking in turn and out of turn, voiced support for Endicott.

“People have done a lot of work to find a place that would work,” said Karen Murray, an audience member and resident. “I guess I’m missing why the Endicott Estate is not a good idea.”

Committee members did not explicitly bring up the Endicott plan or endorse any other site at the meeting, but the committee was formed as a result of a Town Meeting vote in November as a response to the proposed Endicott Estate plan.

The Endicott plan, presented to selectmen in February 2012, included renovating a barn at the Endicott Estate property with private money and pursuing a campus model taking advantage of the greenhouse, library, and mansion already on the property. The Endicott Estate was donated to the town by the heirs of the estate.

Opposition to the plan formed in the summer of 2012 by a group of residents including Andrew Lawlor and Cherylann Sheehan, who both are serving on the nine-member site committee. They argued for preserving the estate as open space and were concerned that using private money would cut Town Meeting out of the process.

In a 108-103 vote in November, Town Meeting Members backed the proposal to form a new committee to explore all sites in Dedham and to appropriate $50,000 of town money for a feasibility study.

Council on Aging members balked at the proposal, stating that sites had been explored again and again by committees over the past decades. At Monday's meeting, one audience member said she had sat through 40 years of senior center proposals, and that nothing had yet been built.

One audience member, referring to Town Meeting members who had asked that a process be followed, asked site committee Chairman Carmen DelloIacono whether there was a process in writing.

DelloIacono, who is also a selectman, said there was no process in writing, but that the process followed for other buildings was to run a feasibility study through Town Hall, approved by Town Meeting voters, and then seek approval from the Building, Planning, and Construction Committee.

A proposal at the Dexter School property on High Street went through that process, but failed in a 2008 vote, DelloIacono said. Council on Aging chairman Leanne Jasset said Monday that voters had rejected the proposal as too large, criticizing the building as a “Taj Majal.”

Council on Aging Director Laura Leventhal provided committee members with a basic description of what a senior center could consist of and a potential size of the building, leading some committee members to speculate that a half-acre parcel of land would be required to accommodate the building and the parking.

At the same time, Council on Aging and Senior Center Site Committee member Margot Pyle cautioned the rest of the committee not to get too caught up with size. She said seniors would accept “half a loaf” rather than “a full loaf” because it had “been living off of crumbs.”

The current space used for seniors is about 2,400 square feet, about one-sixth of the size of a 15,000 center proposed by Leventhal.

The Endicott plan, relying on spaces already in existence at the Endicott Estate, would only require about 8,600 square feet, according to previous presentations of the plan.

The Senior Center Site Committee decided to tour other senior centers in other towns before meeting for further discussions.

Many in attendance said that work had already been done, and were eager to proceed with the Endicott plan.

The vote at an April 8 Special Town Meeting could decide that is the course of action the town would take.

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