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After decades of debate Salem city council votes to proceed with senior center project

Posted by Terri Ogan  March 15, 2013 08:58 AM

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Salem Mayor Kimberley Driscoll thanks city council members after a majority votes in favor of the new senior center project.

After decades of debate, the Salem city council has finally approved the long overdue senior center project.

Salem residents and officials applauded after the council voted 10 to 1 in Thursday night’s city council meeting to move forward with Mayor Kimberley Driscoll’s proposed plan, which she presented two months ago.

“I really think its important for us to recognize how important this is, but more importantly to thank the council for coming together and realizing this long awaited project,” Driscoll said. “I’m just grateful that we’re able to put this to bed. We’ve been able to achieve something that no other administration, council, or mayor has been able to do for the last 30 years and that’s to agree on a site, move it forward and get this done.”

The $4.9 million plan entails a 20,000-square foot facility located at the corner of Boston and Bridge Street in a vacant area where a Sylvania plant once stood.

The location has been problematic for some residents due to environmental concerns, as well as using a bond for funding.

Following a four-hour meeting Wednesday night that left residents and officials in a stalemate on the issue, Driscoll and City Council President Jerry Ryan added three conditions to the current proposal hoping to persuade and appease those opposing the project.

Those conditions include starting construction within 12 months of the final passage and approval of the mayor, hiring a full-time council on aging director and authorizing the mayor, city solicitor and city council president to meet with the developer to execute an environmental liability agreement protecting the city from risk of loss, financial or otherwise, from pre-existing site conditions.

“To add caveats to it to make it even better, to protect us and our seniors down the road, to finally make this thing go through,” said Ward 1 Councilor Robert McCarthy. “I will still be supporting this. I think it’s a great project, It’s great for Salem.”

Councillor-at-large Arthur Sargent was the only member to vote against the proposal.

Resident Rose Mary O’Connor, 68, said that while she supports building a new center she has qualms with the location.

“I’m all for the seniors having a better location than what they have now,” O’Connor said. “My concern is they really wanted a stand-alone building and I’m still not comfortable with the chemicals in the soil there. But I think they did a good job. The council worked very hard at this.”

Ryan, who was originally against the location because of potential environmental issues, said he just wants to get the ball rolling on the project.

“I don’t have a problem,” Ryan said. “I want to see it be built now so we’re passed that point of yes, or no, it’s a matter of let’s get it built. That’s why I put the time restraint in there so it’s not going to linger.”

In two weeks, the city council must vote on a second and final passage of the proposed plan.

If the councilors vote in favor of the project, which Ryan said is expected, the mayor has 10 days to sign the order.

“People could all change their mind again,” Ryan said. “It’s not over, but I imagine it’s going to be a 10-1 vote again.”

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