Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Post for the Week of February 10-16, 2008: Newburyport Medical Center and Senior Center

To those who actually look forward to reading my ramblings here, I apologize for my disappearance.

After being sworn in with the Council, the Mayor, and the School Committee in early January, my wife and I adopted a new daughter from China which necessitated my traveling overseas for two weeks. Don't worry---my Councillor duties were upheld by Councillors Shanley and Connell covering my phone calls and my wife Susanne covering a neighborhood meeting for me.

So with a happy daughter now home with us and with a keen appreciation, which only travel can induce, for all that we have in Newburyport, my thoughts on a couple of issues:

Newburyport Medical Center
As reported in the Daily News, the Council voted unanimously (with one recusal by Councillor Jones) on Monday night to approve modifications to the special permit for the proposed cancer center to be built off of Low Street and adjacent to Anna Jaques Hospital. This project has been supported by a strong majority of the neighbors, mostly because the access road has long been sought as a way to alleviating traffic impact on narrow residential streets.
The modifications were requested because a new developer Murphy & McManus will, after the necessary approvals are granted, complete the project. I voted 'yes' because the proposed modifications represent a 'de-intensification' of usage --a smaller building with slightly more parking--while maintaining the long awaited access road and providing much needed cancer treatment services to the Greater Newburyport area.

Senior Center
Jim Roy's column in last week's Newburyport Current asked a series of good questions to which I will give a brief answer:

1) "What is the constituency we’re talking about here, and how many of them are there?"
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. If 20% of the 3,000 seniors are in need of community, services, recreation, and a reason to get out of the house/apartment, that would give us 600 seniors who would use a Senior Center. Hopefully not all at once...;-).
The services provided would be similar to what is provided now in scattered rented/borrowed/begged sites and similar to what is provided in other municipalities. Yes, there may be bingo, but there will also be medical help, tax assistance, and outreach.

2) "Secondly, who is pressuring for this center?"
I heard a lot about it on the campaign trail last summer and fall. I've met with folks from the Council on Aging and unaffiliated seniors who are in favor. I've talked to members of the Siting Committee who've worked on this topic for years. Successive Mayors have worked on this issue.

3) "My third problem with this enterprise is location."
Newburyport has been looking for years at sites ranging from the Armory on Low Street, the waterfront, the Fulton Street Pit behind the Fire Station, and Cushing Park--which has emerged as the preferred site under Mayors Clancy and Moak. Jim Roy mentions Newbury's Little River Transit project as a possible partnership between the communities. I've looked at that idea--as have others. That town's proposed Senior Center is 5,000 square feet, which would make a huge house but a very small senior center; the proposal for Newburyport is 12,000 square feet.
I think Cushing Park, while not perfect, is a viable site:
a) it is centrally located essentially in the middle of our city; some seniors may actually walk there. While it is not close to senior housing located downtown, it is closer to senior housing located at Horton Terrace.
b) the City owns the land, lowering overall cost. Site control is key to any development project. In the recent Request for Proposals (RFP) for a CDBG funding put out by the MA Dept of Housing and Community Development -- this is the source often used by communities to specifically pay for capital costs for Senior Centers -- the first criteria of eligibility is 'site control'. This is why the site needs to be secured first, then the funding pursued. No foundation, state or federal agency, or private donor is going to give a penny until a site is in hand.
c) a Senior Center 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. The draft plans include quite a bit of parking which will cover snow emergency parking needs. The playground will remain intact. I was even pleased to find that the basketball court would remain. There is an outcry when a neighborhood school is closed; then there is an outcry when a service is proposed to be located in a neighborhood. Help me understand. Is it that we just don't like change?

In his column, Jim suggested that I'd be better off avoiding this 'minefield' which he incorrectly thought was in Ward 4 (Jim acknowledged this mistake in an email to me). As I've said before, I'd support the Senior Center and this proposed site whether I represented Ward 3, Ward 4 or the entire city and whether I lived on Kent Street, Oakland Street, or Plum Island.

To me, there is a need and a problem to be solved. We have a potential solution that works to address the problem, the capital funds to be raised will not harm the City's budget, the ongoing operating costs will be slightly higher than currently budgeted but the rent we now pay the Salvation Army would cover a great deal of the utilities and maintenance cost.

I think we need to keep moving on this.

Ed Cameron


Anonymous said...

"There is an outcry when a neighborhood school is closed; then there is an outcry when a service is proposed to be located in a neighborhood. Help me understand. Is it that we just don't like change?"

Not exactly, councilor -- in the case of the school closing you are referring to (affecting many of your future constituents, you may recall), there were valid questions that were not answered in a consensus-building manner. Those questioning the superintendent's decision were depicted as insular and anti-education. Sure, change is always an upheaval, but the lingering issue was the way the closing was handled. I hope those who raise perhaps valid questions about the wisdom of building a senior center at Cushing Park will not be depicted as "anti-senior" or villified like some neighborhood school advocates were. And I hope councilors will not dismiss their concerns as simple resistance to change. Jim Roy raises some valid questions, which I hope are not dismissed in a cavalier fashion, especially by those elected by all citizens.

Ari said...

Hi Ed, glad to see you blogging on here again. I didn't think to ask you Monday, but I presume you stayed at the White Stork Hotel for the paperwork processing at the adjacent embassy?

As to your question if people are resistant to change, I feel it's more that people are unwilling to challenge the status quo.

Anonymous said...

RE:Senior Center.Since building the new center would be a couple of years away, would it make sense to organize a temporary space for seniors?

It could test out what services or social programing would be most useful and used. Places like the Library back room come to mind, also upstairs at City Hall. We have plenty of auditorium space in the schools and the upstairs seems kind of wasted/underutilized.

Ari said...

To the anonymous poster about temporary space for seniors in the library or city hall, allow me to thank the poster for those suggestions.

However, during past conversations I had with Roseann Robillard, it was brought up that for seniors to congregate anywhere than the existing space at the Salvation Army, there needs to be access to a kitchen. City Hall's kitchen next to the auditorium is not adequate, nor is the library's.

Whether different spaces could be utilized here and there, sure, but as the COA already has a space, why move them out?