by Russell Harris
Standing before banks of expansive windows showing blazes of brilliant red and orange foliage, town officials and volunteers thanked voters of Groton for the gift of the beautiful new building before a standing-room-only crowd, all celebrating the opening of Groton’s new Senior Center last Saturday afternoon.
Town Manager Mark Haddad, Master of Ceremonies, introduced the speakers: State Representative Sheila Harrington; Select Board Chairman Alison Manugian; Building Committee Chairman Peter Cunningham; Mihran Keoseian, Chairman of Friends of Groton Elders Building Fundraising Committee; and Kathy Shelp, Director of the Council on Aging. All speakers thanked Groton taxpayers and praised the hard work of the various boards and committees leading to the building all were admiring.
Representative Sheila Harrington presented Town Officials with a proclamation from the State Legislature congratulating Groton and its new Center.
Mihran Keoseian highlighted the generosity of the Groton community saying, “As of today, our outreach campaign has resulted in contributions of over $400,000. Please join me in thanking the members of the building committee for their hard work in securing this funding— Peter Cunningham, Beverly Smith, Connie Sartini, and George Faircloth.” Mr. Keoseian added, “We must also thank the Friends of Groton Elders who, long before this project started, have been and still are a significant contributor of the Center and the well being of our seniors.”
In addition to this light-filled building, Groton residents should be proud of the civic process that culminated in its construction. Town Officials wrestled with costs and efficiency, while ensuring quality, but our local government process responded to voter concerns and successfully addressed a significant community need at an affordable price.
The process was not easy or simple. It was a long, hard march of 1,000 metaphorical miles. But it was the commitment and the hard work done by so many at seemingly endless meetings and public hearings that developed an understanding of community needs that provided the necessary intelligence to move forward with a plan that could receive voter approval.
Initially, the building committee had a vision for a larger, more expansive, and much more expensive structure. But at about $8 million, voters said it was too expensive. To their credit, proponents listened to voter criticism and scaled back their ambitions.
One of the building committee’s best decisions was hiring local architect Greg Yanchenko to re- imagine the building to focus on wider community needs rather than just an older population’s needs. Guided by Groton Seniors’ very public and adamant view that they did not want a building solely for older people, but instead a vibrant space where all could fully engage together as a community, Architect Yanchenko offered an inspired vision of how such a building could look, his vision blowing like a fresh breeze flooding into a stuffy, unventilated room.
Once Architect Yanchenko’s open, light-filled design was presented to the public, at a price about $2.5 million less than previous proposals, public opinion started to shift from ‘concern’ to ‘this is something worth considering.’ But even after responding to all the community questions, many
voters questioned the validity of building a new structure based on social needs rather than perceived basic needs like public safety or education.
After initial passage at town meeting, the new building went on the ballot to authorize borrowing money for construction. Many proponents held their breath before the debt exclusion vote, doubtful that it would be approved. But it passed by the narrowest of margins – only 12 votes.
The process speaks well for Groton voters’ power to voice their concerns and have their concerns understood and then expressed in policy. Building the new Senior Center also speaks well for Groton residents’ ability to expand their understanding of a new role for government in a radically changing society – fostering and supporting social care and interaction as a fundamental government responsibility.