Friday, October 5, 2007

Senior Center---Why, Where, and How

The most important and interesting aspect of campaigning door-to-door is simply asking voters what’s on their minds. Sometimes the answers are not what you expect.

In talking to seniors about a Newburyport Senior Center, a frequent comment I’ve gotten is “I’ll be dead before we have one.” Sometimes it’s said with a little grin, sometimes with a grimace.

When I say I support building a Senior Center -- I also have courageous stands on other controversial topics such as the Red Sox, the American flag, and Mom's apple pie -- a question I often get asked back is “How are we going to pay for it?” In fact, this is the best response a voter can give to any promises by a politician or candidate.

At the risk of touching another one of Newburyport’s third rails, I offer these thoughts.

Why Do We Need One and Where?

To me, it’s a basic city service just as we provide schools, libraries, roads and sidewalks. The services offered for seniors help to connect them to their peers, help them stay independent and active, and let them know that their community values their contributions.

Out of a total population of 17,000, Newburyport’s population over the age of 60 is over 3,000 and expected to rise to over 5,000 people as the baby boomers age in the next 20 years.

Salisbury recently renovated its senior center, Amesbury is building one as part of a transportation center (good idea!), and Newbury is looking to incorporate a new senior center into the Little River Transit Village.

Newburyport has been talking about this for years with sites ranging from the Armory on Low Street, the waterfront, and Cushing Park which has emerged as the preferred site under Mayors Clancy and Moak.

I think Cushing Park, while not perfect, is a viable site:

1) it is centrally located, some seniors will be able to walk there. While it is not close to senior housing located downtown, it is closer to senior housing located at Horton Terrace.

2) the City owns the land, lowering overall cost. Site control is key to any development project.

3) it can fit into the neighborhood and I would say this if I lived right there on Kent Street. It will look better than what is there now—a dilapidated parking lot. Snow emergency parking needs can be met by allowing parking on a designated side of a street.

How Do We Pay For It?

The cost of construction will be $5 million. On going operating costs will be similar to what is spent now, since many of these services are already delivered in multiple sites. I think we could also generate revenue by renting out conference space in a way that doesn't impact senior activities or the neighborhood.

Obviously, the City doesn't have $5 million tucked under the mattress. Cost of construction will need to be covered by a mix of fundraising, City and State funds (House Speaker Sal Dimasi pledged $600,000 in October 2004 according to the Octobe 8, 2004 Daily News), and we should also work with our U.S Senators and Congressman Tierney for assistance.

The excerpt below spells it out. According to the Daily News article “Moak begins process for senior center in Cushing Park” (March 8, 2007):

The mayor said once Cushing Park is set as the place for the senior center , the design process can continue, which will allow estimates and concept designs to be finished.

And with those documents in hand, Moak said, he can start a fundraising campaign to help pay for the center, which will decrease the direct cost to the city's taxpayers.

"It may be down the road a while before we ever get to this. But I have to find a location, because we can't do a design of the building until we have a location," Moak said. "And we can't begin to look for money through state or federal grants or local fundraising until we get a design."

The mayor has pushed for months to make Cushing Park the location of the senior center, which is estimated to cost $5 million. At the park now is a small playground and a large parking lot, used mostly by residents during snow emergencies. A senior center would eliminate some of that parking but preserve the playground.

Moak said there should be no concern about this project taking money away from this year's budget process. He said this represents the first step in a long process.

"I'm just getting it in line," he said. "This is not a competition of any money this year or even next fall."

The mayor said he is keeping the center on his horizon because during the last 12 years serving as mayor and city clerk, the need of a senior center has yet to be met. Doing this now, he said, is a way to keep the process moving.

The entire article can be found in the Daily News online archives at

I share the Mayor’s position on the Senior Center as do many current Councillors and candidates and many many seniors. Let’s keep the process moving. I’m 45 years old and I’d like to see it built while I’m still around.


Ruth Allen said...

I have mixed feelings about putting a senior center at Cushing Park. I agree that the parkng lot is not precisely a garden spot. However, unless there is a binding agreement that there will be another parking area for local residents to use, I'm not wild about losing the winter parking, even though I don't use it. Also, a lot of people worked very hard to transform a really hazardous playground into the very pleasant spot it is now. It is important to the neighborhood to keep it alive. If and when a senior center goes into the neighborhood, we need to remember that the playground is equally important for our youngest residents.

Anonymous said...

Hi, Ed - I'm glad to see you're in agreement with Mayor Moak's proposal for the senior center. I don't live in the neighborhood and recognize and honor the competing forces, but, we can argue the space forever - times a-wastin' and there's just too much talk and no action. And wouldn't it be great to have a small portion of outdoor space set aside that would promote intergenerational connectivity.

Also, very interested in your position on the our two Mayoral candidates overall. I highly value your opinion and frankly, I'm torn.

Ed Cameron said...

Re Ruth's comments: I believe the children's playground will stay which is important. I'm not sure if basketball hoops will stay which would be unfortunate. In terms of the winter parking, I don't see why we can't allow residents in that area to park on one side of those streets; plows would be able to get through and auto owners will still have to dig out as they do now when they get buried in that lot.

Re Anonymous' comments on the Mayor's race: I decided months ago that I would not publicly endorse a Mayoral candidate with the view that I ought to focus on my own Ward 4 City Council race. I can work with either John Moak or Jim Stiles. The success of any Mayor means success for Newburyport.

My suggestions for the 'torn' voter are to take a look at the respective websites( and, go to the Mayoral Debate which I believe is Tuesday, October 30th at 7pm at the Nock School, and just call them up. Both men are very approachable and it would be good for them to hear from you.

Thanks for commenting!