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Cap sought on senior center budget.

Byline: Michael J. Ballway

STERLING - The town's fiscal watchdog wants a string attached to the first round of funding for a new senior center: a string worth about $500,000 on an article worth $309,000, to pay for an architect and owner's project manager.

The Senior Center Design and Building Committee says it will take at least $2 million to build the new senior center at Boutelle and Muddy Pond roads, but the Finance Committee, as a condition of its support for the project at tonight's special town meeting, plans to ask for a cap of $1.5 million in public spending.

John Kilcoyne, chairman of the Finance Committee, said $1.5 million would buy a 5,000-square-foot senior center, which is "about triple what they have now" in the basement of the Butterick Municipal Building. He said if senior center proponents want a larger building, they should raise the rest of the money through grants or donations.

"I just don't agree with building a $2 million to $3 million building right now for 33 people, with the expectation of 100 coming down the road," Mr. Kilcoyne said.

For Maureen Cranson, co-chairman of the Senior Center Design and Building Committee, the current proposal already represents a compromise. Based on Sterling's senior population, the state recommends an 11,000-square-foot building, the Council on Aging wanted at least 9,000, and her committee is proposing 7,500 square feet.

"We went in with zero and made a list of the different facilities that should be in a senior center," said Ms. Cranson. "Can we make it smaller? That's why we need an architect. We need a professional to help us design it and make it an efficient space."

She pointed to the example of Sutton, which she said built a 5,000-square-foot senior center 17 years ago. At the time, Sutton's senior population was about 900; Sterling's today is about 1,700. While not every Sterling senior uses the current senior center, she said, the 33-per-day figure is misleading; a recent survey at the senior center found almost 350 individual users.

Registered voters get their say at 7 tonight in the Chocksett Middle School gymnasium, 40 Boutelle Road. The warrant includes 11 articles, including the senior center project and requests to spend up to $205,000 on a public records vault and $88,700 for a septic system upgrade at the 1835 Town Hall. All three projects have been in the planning stages for years, but Mr. Kilcoyne said his board still has questions about the scope of the Town Hall and senior center work.

"I haven't heard anywhere, from anyone, as to why (Sterling needs) two buildings when one would be sufficient," Mr. Kilcoyne said. "There needs to be more discussion and better planning on how to use both of these buildings."

If there is definitely enough parking at the 1835 building, the seniors should move there, Mr. Kilcoyne suggested. If not, there is no sense in renovating that building at all.

Sterling voters designated the old Town Hall as a "community center" last year; it currently hosts the Recreation Department and meeting space for town boards and local civic organizations.

A committee has been working on plans to renovate the building, adding handicap accessibility to the basement and second-floor auditorium. The new septic system is necessary if the building's capacity increases.

Ms. Cranson said she is focused on the senior center project, not Town Hall. She said the building would likely accommodate community events when senior activities are not in session.
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Title Annotation:LOCAL NEWS
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Nov 13, 2012
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