OLD LYME — Members of the Board of Finance said Tuesday night that they were open to paying for part of the costs of a $30,000 study of the Lymes’ Senior Center’s long-term needs, but members raised concerns of the appropriateness of an architect to carry out that study.
“To me it almost sounds like a conflict to have an architect doing a feasibility study and say we need this [architectural work],” said Board of Finance chair Andy Russell at Tuesday’s board meeting. “It sounds like there’s probably other organizations out there that come into senior centers, look at the programming, look at the community, maybe do some surveys in the community, certainly do surveys of the membership, and [say] here’s where we are now and where should we be 5, 10, 15 years from now.”
A special building committee for the Lymes Senior Center requested that towns of Lyme and Old Lyme together contribute $15,000 to hire a consultant to audit all of the senior center’s facilities and to assess the needs of Lyme and Old Lyme’s senior population over the next 10 to 15 years.
Jeri Baker, chair of the special building committee and the senior center Board of Directors, told the finance board that this was necessary to meet the needs of a growing senior population.
“The trend for this increase in the aging population is going to maybe plateau in 2035, but until then, we’re busting at the seams and we need to be able to serve the people that we have now,” Baker said.
She also said that the senior center Board of Directors would contribute the other $15,000 for the study from funds raised through membership dues and donations.
“The $15,000 we’re kicking in from our board we can use right now,” she said. “We don’t have to wait until July 1 [when the fiscal year changes over]. We could actually start doing something now if we wanted to.”
In late January, Baker asked Lyme and Old Lyme finance boards to consider $50,000 for a study, but she said that her group has looked for ways to reduce those costs by using in town services and volunteers to gather some of the information.
“The full facilities audit can actually be started probably by the buildings manager and maybe both building inspectors from both towns,” Baker said. “They can begin that audit and whoever we decide to bring in as an engineer or an architect could augment it or finish it in the way that it’s supposed to be done.”
Baker said that architects who presented to her committee had advised a “two-pronged approach” to the study — researching the senior center’s existing facilities and reviewing its current programs at roughly the same time.
Finance board members who spoke Tuesday were skeptical about this, saying instead that the study should first get a clear picture of what the population needs and then see how the current senior center facilities meet or fail to meet to those needs.
Board member David Kelsey said he could support the study if the process was right.
“Thirty grand [for the study] is fine… but don’t get an architect who wants a 4 or 5 million dollar, brilliant-looking building to be your consultant,” Kelsey said. “Find your needs first — that’s what the library did — and then identify what your architectural needs are based on those needs.”
Board member Matthew Olson said similarly that an architect could be incentivized to conclude the study by calling for a big expansion.
Russell summarized, “The focus that I’m hearing from the Board of Finance is that the first step in our mind is a comprehensive review of our existing programs and services, which would include a needs analysis of our current and future older citizens as it pertains to our existing facilities. That’s step one, and it doesn’t sound like architectural work. Maybe [architects] have done that but to me it feels like somebody else.”
Russell went on to say that it could make sense to pay for two studies or pay more than $30,000 so long as the towns’ officials made deliberate and prudent steps.
“We’re certainly not saying no,” he told Baker.
Baker said that her committee would discuss their next steps at their meeting on March 11.
Note: Board of Finance member David Kelsey is the primary source of funding for the Connecticut Examiner