Residents voice discontent over possible community center

Jul 13, 2021

A meeting to discuss a potential community center on July 13 raised concerns among some in attendance that the site could replace the Council on Aging. 

Plans for a community center have been in the works since 2018, when the Parks and Recreation Board expressed interest in having an indoor facility to provide more room for recreational activities, Town Administrator Shawn MacInnes said. 

At the 2019 Fall Town Meeting, members approved $45,000 to fund the feasibility study discussed at the meeting.

“The town was seeking to have shared space and programs available for children, teens, adults, seniors, and families,” MacInnes said. “That was really the impetus for the request for proposals that we want to get feedback from.”

During the meeting, consultant Joel Bargmann went over some of the findings from an online survey he said 880 residents answered. 

“This was a very high response,” he said. “In a public forum, you would never get 800 comments.” 

In the survey, MacInnes noted that residents were asked about their use of the town’s recreation programs and what new offerings they would like to see moving forward.

Common themes found were the desire for an indoor sport facility that would be eco-friendly, and allow programming and activities for residents of all ages to use the building.

It was the latter finding that drew the greatest concern.  

Many believed this meant current programs would be shifted away from the Council on Aging’s current building in Bliss Corner, especially since the presentation included renderings of possible locations off Russells Mills and Reed roads with additions for popular classes offered at the COA such as Zumba.

“We have to go for the youth programs, but we must maintain the senior center,” one resident said.

According to MacInnes, the locations are “just examples” of town-owned sites where a possible building could go if it were approved by Town Meeting. He added that the intergenerational center was just something those surveyed said they wanted.

Another possibility, Bargmann noted, would be to renovate the COA and add a single gym building somewhere on the property. Any renovations to the Center, he said, would cost $5 million — which would be the same price as a new 8,000 to 9,000 square foot facility at 225 Russells Mills Road.

Friends of the Elderly President Maria Connor said that her nonprofit is already working to add an additional building containing a large room for “special activities” to the center and “to improve the facility for what is needed.”

“That offer still stands at no cost to the town of Dartmouth,” she said.

The majority of those attending the meeting noted that none of them had received or had ever heard about such a survey. 

According to MacInnes, it was shared on the town’s website and through social media, and Council on Aging staff made calls to its members to get more responses from those 55 and older.

“The survey could have been mailed out,” Susan Guiducci said. “There’s a whole range of people you missed.”

Bargmann also showcased examples of other modern community centers — something many townspeople and officials said was more upscale than envisioned.

The initial plan, Parks and Recreation Board member Joe Vieira said, was to have a recreation center built on town-owned land adjacent to the Dartmouth Youth Activities Association on Russells Mills Road. This would be used by independent leagues such as the DYAA, along with The Dartmouth Girls Athletic League.

“Our thought process was to have a building, a steel building — not the Taj Mahal, not what’s in Sandwich or Yarmouth and all this crazy stuff,” he said. “We took a hard left here.”

Residents ultimately agreed that if the town is to have an indoor community center, it must remain a separate entity from the Council on Aging.

“We’re here promoting our needs,” Enid Silva said. “Our needs are sports children can be involved in during their development.”

Many also wanted for there to be a second round of surveys — something MacInnes said the town will try to do.

“We’re happy to send the survey back out,” he said. “We want to garner feedback — everybody has needs and we’re trying to address all those needs and provide the best service to the community.”