EDITORIAL: Why Such Urgency?
We support and encourage prudent increases in programming for Senior Citizens. As the elderly population grows, there is no doubt that some seniors will need robust services and support, especially as they reach their late 70s and 80s. COA Director Kathy Shelp has forcefully advocated for increased spending on programming, especially funds for increased shuttle bus hours and, perhaps, a part-time activities coordinator.
But while supporting robust programs for seniors, we think it’s reasonable for all of us to ask whether a new $5 million-plus building is a necessary precondition for solid, effective programs for seniors. It feels as if building a new structure is being pushed as a magic solution to producing a better life for seniors.
In 2001 a similar runaway emotional train resulted in the construction of the Lost Lake Fire station. It is now widely [but very quietly] acknowledged that building Lost Lake Fire station was an expensive miscalculation. Not only was it expensive to build, but 16 years of spending on heating, lighting, grounds maintenance and cleaning have been sunk into this ‘zombie’ of a building.
Overall, Groton is a well-run town and we have much to be proud of. Yet, it is also important to acknowledge and remember our failures as well as our successes. By treating our mistakes as learning opportunities, we can acknowledge our misjudgments and make better decisions.
One clear lesson from recent Town Meetings is that voters can be convinced to commit large sums for new construction if spending is couched in an urgent ‘buy now’ pitch driven by fear and uncertainty of future peril. Both Lost Lake Fire Station and Boynton Meadows spending were approved with a similar emotional backstory.
Unfortunately, we see just such an emotional whirlwind gathering around the push for spending about $400,000 for design services for a new Senior Center. Voters rejected design funding for this building in May by a 15% margin in all three precincts at a town-wide ballot. Why is there such urgency to bring this article forward now? In our view, there has not been enough effort to listen and understand why voters rejected the funding plan at the ballot (and we don’t think it was because they weren’t smart enough to understand the ballot questions).
Before commiting a pile of cash for design of a new Senior Center, we hope Town Meeting voters take a deep breath and consider less expensive alternatives. Investing more in programs and transportation, better utilizing alternative spaces in town, and making much-needed repairs to the existing building, all might make more sense and serve the need better than another high-profile construction project.
We also should consider whether such spending could have the unintended consequence of making life harder for some Groton seniors. Increasing taxes to pay for this new building would increase gentrification, possibly becomoing a factor in driving out some of lesser means, leaving the town a much poorer place for their absence. Let’s carefully consider all these factors and let’s not be panicked into funding a municipal building project that’s not in the long-term best interests of the town’s senior population.