Frustration Grows as Funding Delays Stall Lymes’ Senior Center Renovation

Rendering of Lymes' Senior Center (PointOne Architects)


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OLD LYME — Due to delays in state funding and risk insurance, the Lymes’ Senior Center $5.5 million renovation is at least five months behind schedule, leaving frustrated community members to question why the facility was closed last October when it could have remained open.

According to a June presentation, construction was slated to begin last September, with a return date of Oct. 1, 2024, to the facility that serves seniors of Lyme and Old Lyme. 

On Wednesday, the Lymes’ Senior Center Building Committee announced the new groundbreaking date would be in March, with a hope of moving back in by Dec. 31.

Committee Chair Jeri Baker explained that the delays were, in part, a result of awaiting approval for $500,000 in Small Town Economic Assistance Program grants to Old Lyme and Lyme. The grant applications were submitted in August and were just approved two weeks ago.  

“They didn’t publish the grant until Aug. 1, and we had one month to do it,” Baker said.

She said the awards were announced on Sept. 23, 2023, and the governing body for the grant – the Department of Economic and Community Development – was not designated until Oct. 23, 2023. 

During this time, Baker said the committee also had to obtain site approval from the State Historic Office of Preservation. 

Additionally, she said the committee was currently soliciting bids for a builder’s risk policy, which covers materials in the building during the project.

“The insurance industry is crazy. We’re facing a premium that we might not have anticipated,” Baker told the committee. 

The 5,400-square-foot facility center was completed in 1996 at 26 Town Woods Road in Old Lyme and is shared between Old Lyme and Lyme, with each town paying 75 percent and 25 percent of the costs, respectively. The center claims to have 1,100 members aged 55 or older, and offers meals and wellness programs, as well as a range of activities like yoga, dance, arts and crafts, card games and trips. The renovation would add about 3,500 square feet and create flexible spaces with movable walls. 

According to the June presentation, Old Lyme will contribute $4,158,407 to the project, and Lyme will pay $1,386,136. 

“We still need to codify how funding will take place in Old Lyme, but Lyme is up to date on that,” Baker said. 

Baker said at their Jan. 16 meeting, the Old Lyme Board of Selectmen will discuss funding options to recommend to the Board of Finance that evening.

B.J. Bernblum, committee member and the Old Lyme Board of Finance chair, said the town had approved the “aggregate expenditure,” but had discretion on whether to take the amount from the general fund. 

“If we use bonds or borrow money, then we will need additional authorization,” he said. 

First Selectman Martha Shoemaker, a member of the committee, said Old Lyme will need to hold a town meeting to approve financing. 

During public comment, Old Lyme resident Jane Folland told the committee that the delays and lack of access to the building had negatively affected the center members’ sense of community and emotional health. 

“It’s not really about going to yoga class, playing cards and that’s it. We really had a nice building where we could meet up with old friends, meet new friends, form new relationships, have a cup of coffee, talk, and I’d like to see that going forward,” Folland said. “So I just wanted you to be aware that any delays to the schedule don’t just impact your project plan, but also impact the senior members of both towns.”

Folland said communication from the towns and the building committee about the project had been poor and sporadic. 

“What I would really like to see from the committee is a regular update to the senior center members. It would be great if you could summarize what is happening on a monthly basis and publish it in the senior center newsletter,” she said. 

Folland added that a lack of communication has resulted in rumors circulating about the project.

“What I’ve heard from several people is that it runs the gamut, that the project was stalled will never happen. There were just lots of rumors. … So it’d be great if we could get some good messages,” she said. “And if there are delays, don’t be afraid to let us know that there’s a delay. We just want to know what’s happening.”

Deborah Fazzino, of Old Lyme, noted that many senior residents do not own the technology that the town might typically use for communications.

“A lot of people of that generation do not have computers, no email, no smartphones, they don’t have any of that,” she said. “It’s word of mouth information, and when that’s not correct …”

Baker agreed that the newsletter would be an effective way to communicate project updates.

Foland’s spouse, Bill Folland, also said there lacked a “critical path” schedule identifying major milestones in the project. 

“Who’s generating this critical path? Are we where we are today because we did not generate a critical path?” he said. “We are 25 percent behind schedule and we’re not going in the right direction.”

Bill questioned where the preconstruction phase would fit in the schedule. Committee member Ken Biega responded that PointOne architects, the firm that designed the renovation, had been hired for preconstruction and that Newfield Construction would complete the next phase. 

Bill also asked why the center had been shut down in October when contracts had not been signed, the bid package hadn’t gone out, the project management team hadn’t been selected and construction had not been scheduled.

Committee member Alan Sheiness, chair of Lyme’s Board of Finance, explained that the committee did not control the STEAP grant process and could not have anticipated asking for insurance quotes last summer. 

Danielle Couture, project manager of Newfield Construction, said the deadline for requests for proposals is Jan. 25 and that bids would open during a public meeting on Feb. 6. 

The committee also discussed tactics for private fundraising and finding donors who would be listed on a plaque at the center. Bernblum, Sheiness, Lyme Selectman John Kiker and committee member Rick Goulding agreed to form a working group for fundraising. 

Editor’s note: In a later communication with CT Examiner, Baker clarified that the STEAP grants were announced on Sept. 23 — not on Sept. 9 — and that DECD was designated as the governing body on Oct. 23, 2023. Also, the Board of Selectmen, rather than Baker, will discuss funding recommendations that will be sent to the Board of Finance on Jan. 16. In addition, Rick Goulding’s name was previously omitted from the list of committee members forming a working group for fundraising.

Editor’s note: According to a June 2023 presentation about the Lymes’ Senior Center renovation, the center currently has more than 1,100 members aged 55+, not 1,600 members over the age of 70 as previously written. This story has been updated.