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Letter: Darien Senior Center Must Be Replaced

The Darien Senior Activities Center is so dilapidated that her friends won't come back a second time, Ruth Anne Ramsey, a former member of the Advisory Commission on Aging and Affordable Housing, writes in her letter to the editor.

To the editor:

An affluent/upscale community like Darien should be embarrassed to fight over a Senior/Community center that has been vetted and approved by every board that needed to approve it. There is a point where we have to get over trying to be right to make others wrong and just do the right thing for our town.

I think opposition to the  approved plan should sign up for classes at the current Senior Center and invite friends—as I have tried to do over the past year or so. Not one would return after the first visit because it was so depressing. One of my friends actually told me she could not return for another class because the low self esteem she felt entering the senior center. Last spring I had to stop going because of allergy and asthma attacks when I attended classes.

I know of at least four friends who are well into their 70’s who would attend classes and probably eat lunch there too if the place was not so "depressing,” so its very likely there will be increased attendance with a new center.

There are a lot of opinions based on selective  facts like "Sell the property at 35 Leroy." What amount of money has our town spent defending itself at the corner of Leroy and West? That property that was owned by the library and was sold to "developers" and is now owned by the Stefanoni’s. We are paying the price in dollars and hundreds of volunteer hours as our boards and commissions listen to proposals. If we sell it, how do we get to choose what happens there?  I refer you to Fred Conze’s comments regarding this option.

What is wrong with a town facility being used by multiple groups?  My church is used by multiple groups for various activities when its not being used as a place of worship.

Where are the costs for the project on Edgerton that the No’s are promoting—are we factoring in the value of the land there? We can’t have land value factored into one plan and not the other. How many more years would it take to get that plan approved?  

Let's do the right thing and move forward with the currently approved plan. The plan has been studied, debated and voted on and has been endorsed by Democrats and Republicans. Put politics aside and just do what you know is right for our senior citizens who are forced to be in a place that is disgraceful.

Saying no is discrimination of the worst sort against people who have no choices—or they would not be at the Edgerton facility.

Ruth Anne Ramsey

Former Member Advisory Commission on Aging and Affordable Housing

kathy November 28, 2011 at 01:15 PM
Ms. Ramsey, I support your position that Darien should have a senior center that is bright, clean and appropriate. I cannot however support the plan proposed to provide that facility to the members of the community. I take personal offense at the notion that those opposed to the "shuffle" are promoting "discrimination of the worst sort against people who have no choices". With all due respect, I think you are missing the major point of concern to many opposed to the shuffle. It is NOT the senior center itself. I would venture a guess that there would have been no referendum called for if a senior center was being built at it's current site at a cost of less than $7million. Our town officials, not those opposed to the shuffle, developed the complicated, wasteful "facilities transfer plan". That is what the bond is for and people are objecting to that! The proposed center at town hall costs over $4million but the taxpayers are being asked to fund an additional $3million to move 28 full time Board of Ed employees to 35 Leroy. This is a ridiculous waste of town funds and an even more ridiculous use of the old library building. Do you know that the BOE will not use the entire building nor do they need all of the land and parking? The No's are NOT supporting any project on Edgerton as you suggest. Finally I find your reference to the Stephanoni's and Mr. Conze in this debate fascinating. Why would they be part of your argument for a Senior Center and the shuffle????
Debra Ritchie November 28, 2011 at 01:34 PM
Please visit www.voteyesdarien.com to learn the facts and merits for the plan to give our seniors a new home.
John Sini November 28, 2011 at 01:56 PM
I’d like to further underscore the point on the cost of constructing a new senior/community center facility versus pursuing the approved Shuffle plan. A preliminary budget was created in March '08 by AP Construction as part of Perkins Eastman study commissioned by Mrs. Klein. The detailed study called for an 18,000 square foot facility which ran $6,350,223. This budget was revisited in September '10 at the request of Mr. Campbell. The construction company endorsed the same budget (labor costs have declined while material costs have increased since 2008). The study even discusses adding another 4,500 sq feet to the facility for $1.6 million, which would bring the total cost to almost $8 million! It’s interesting to note the cost of constructing a new facility runs $352.79 per square foot. Now compare that with the results from the approved Shuffle plans: This project will: Create an additional 16% square feet at the underutlized Town Hall facility for the Mather Center; Utilize the vacant 35 Leroy facility and combine all BOE admin functions at one facility; Add a new community meeting room; and Combine BOE and Public Works maintenance functions at the Ledge road facility. Note: The cost of this approved project runs only about $150 per square foot. For an incremental investment of only $550,000 relative to building a new senior center facility, the Shuffle delivers Darien so much more value, please now tell me why the heck we should vote “No?”
John Sini November 28, 2011 at 02:05 PM
Ms. Finnegan says, "The No's are NOT supporting any project on Edgerton as you suggest." Actually, the anti-Shuffle people are all over the map when it comes to what they actually want done about the Senior Center. Some want a new place on Edgerton, some want the Senior Center crammed into Town Hall with the Board of Ed, and some want no Senior Center at all. The anti-Shuffle people are great at throwing stones, but not so good at coming up with solutions. I seriously doubt Mrs. Finnegan aware that the cost of a new facility on Edgarton was recently re-quoted at $6.35 million. This estimate is based on a study commissioned by Mrs. Klein in 2007.
Deb Ann November 28, 2011 at 02:15 PM
Did you cite Conze's speech at the RTM as a reason to support the shuffle? Was this the speech about his fear that some huge slum tower would be built there? The referendum is a democratic process that provides a check on power over how our money is spent. Those opposed to the shuffle are opposed to the amount of money and degree of complexity (which raises the risk that this estimate will rise in the future) associated with three building projects to satisfy one need. The referendum is not about Conze's fear or anyone's fear. It is about money spent to move the Board of Ed into an oversized building and to refurbish town hall. It's too much, way too much, in our opinion. As far as alternatives, I would imagine others would be explored, hopefully this time more thoughtfully. Any money spent for the one need--senior center--could be financed by asset sales. Thus a $6 million figure would effectively be $2 million if an asset sale brought in say $4 million. Asset sales do not mean huge towers. This kind of talk strikes me as hyperbole to instill fear in voters. And this assumption of fear, this kind of fear, is disturbing. But one could imagine commercial zoning and a commercial sale. Why not? There are a host of alternatives that could be explored. But the referendum is not about alternative plans. The referendum is about this plan. A vote NO, says this plan is flawed.
kathy November 28, 2011 at 07:50 PM
www.stoptheshuffle.com
sebastian dangerfield November 28, 2011 at 10:40 PM
Deb Ann says " the referendum is not about alternative plans" If that is the case, then the website, and Kathy above , should not be telling senior citizens that you want a senior center--just not at this price. Because it implies that there is a better plan--but in fact, no plan exists. The problem of course with saying that "alternatives should be explored, hopefully more thoughtfully," implies that the committees that have studied, and studied and studied --and that were open for suggestions by people like Deb Ann and Kathy, found this plan to be superior. I hope Deb Ann, if you put in a few years into looking at solutions to various problems and someone who did nothing--and contributed not a minute to looking at the issues, tells you that your plan is no good and more thought should be put in next time, but that they have no ideas whatsoever, just that your ideas are not good--im guessing you may find that offensive and not too well thought out. Im thinking that if the Klein administration looked at this issue for 6 years and decided that they could spend 6-8 million on accomplishing just one thing....then the less than 7 mio --while utilizing town resources makes sense. If I had a better idea, Id state it--but one thing I think is very insulting is just to say 'people need to spend more time--and think better next time. Its been 8 years of looking at this. Do you really think there is a better idea out there? If so--then why dont you have it?
John Boulton November 29, 2011 at 02:31 AM
There have been 30 different plans proposed over the years, and yet we are still stuck with the same old decrepit Senior Center. This plan WAS considered thoughtfully, "Deb Ann" might want to be more considerate of those who have spent plenty of time and hard work reviewing this proposal, including an RTM that voted 2-1 in favor of it. A "YES" vote says we can finally rise to the moment and build a community center we all can be proud of.
John Sini November 29, 2011 at 01:13 PM
Luca, Voters are quickly learning that any "alternative plan" for an acceptable new senior center is bound to cost almost as much as the approved Shuffle plan, yet yield much less benefit for Darien taxpayers by leaving assets under utilized. The math just doesn't add up for the "no" crowd, so they won't offer up any of their own "better ideas."
sebastian dangerfield November 29, 2011 at 01:51 PM
Yeah. By the way, were the same people against the shuffle when the cost estimates were lower? Im guessing , yes. Because it isnt about costs. They want to have a chance at senior votes--so they disingenuously say they want a senior center---just not this one. They want the school parent vote ,so they disingnuously say the shuffle will negatively affect educational opportunities. They dont reveal a better plan, they just conclude that the competent people who designed this plan --and the rtm made up of involved smart people who voted yes, were simply ill advised. Their Non-Plan is better---except it doesnt exist. Its too bad they really have nothing solid to provide as an alternative. I think its pretty clear the senior center on edgerton is a disaster and has been for a long time. The issue has been studied by many people over the past decade, and this is the one that has been approved. Like I said before, the Darien Times was bang-on to say its not the perfect plan, its just the best plan that can be made given the resources and situation.
Deb Ann November 29, 2011 at 02:21 PM
My last post. Mr. Boulton, The only body in town government that has contested elections is the Board of Selectman. The other bodies have qualified people who are vetted, and we certainly are grateful for their work. But their elections are uncontested. Thus they are not very accountable to constituents. In fact, the incentive mechanisms in place encourage pleasing party leaders over constituents. It’s one thing to have an opinion and go about proving it right, another to approach a topic objectively then have an opinion grow from proper analysis. Both may be thoughtful processes, but I would prefer the latter over the former analysis. This lack of accountability to electorate makes checks on power anemic at best. The only real check is the referendum and that is a tough one as the threshold for turnout is quite high. I disagree with your implication that taxpayers like us have no right to question how our money is spent because all of us were not on these committees. We do have a right to voice our dissent. As do members of your party who voiced their dissent on these petitions. I think party members like Lorene Borne who bravely voiced her concerns should be applauded by your party leadership. Allowing dissent unifies. If you bully dissent, your party will not only divide but eventually falter as most will leave, become independents or Democrats like me.
sebastian dangerfield November 29, 2011 at 05:14 PM
Deb Ann The problem with calling it "bullying dissent" is that at some point, it becomes self -focused. In other words, you are saying that anti-shuffle people have a right to say 'come up with better ideas", but the pro shuffle crowd can be labeled bullies, by saying " where is your plan?" Thats a pretty unfair way to argue. To the best of my ability to read and listen, there has been zero people who say that a referendum is not allowed, or that the process should be stopped. Just like you, deb ann, they are arguing their opinion that they see something happening that they disagree with. You opine that the shuffle should not progress, and others question the the motivation of the anti shuffle crowd. why is only the side that questions your side, termed bullies? By the way, Im not going to totally disagree with your point on the RTM, but if you can say that the rtm is loyal to their party, then can you also say that the shuffle is a reflection of party loyalty, and equally draw the organizers and participants motivations into question? (I hope that isnt a bullying question). If there were contested elections, by the way, if you are honest, and you firmly believe this body is a reflection of party loyalty --how different would the make-up of the body be? Would it then suddenly contain a higher level of competence? This is not rhetorical--Im actually wondering if you had more people running --do you think more democrats --more capable people would be there?
John Boulton November 29, 2011 at 05:30 PM
Gee, Mrs. Ice. I didn't realize what an angry reply I was going to get when I countered your implication that our public officials didn't thoughtfully consider this project before they approved it. Having served for 13 years on the RTM and the Board of Ed, I know how hard our officials work at their volunteer roles. The RTM in particular is a non-partisan body - as a member of the Darien Democratic Town Committee you should know that. It takes their role very seriously, and I can testify from personal experience that you can't get that body to do anything it doesn't want to do. To denigrate their efforts is really a desperate act, and to promote Lori Bora as a heroine when she agrees with you, but then discount those whom you disagree with as not being thoughtful is intellectually dishonest (and for the record, I like and respect Lori and agree she is free to vote as she see fit). It won't take even a careful re-reading of my post to realize I said nothing about the legitimacy of this referendum process, nor did I bully anyone, so please don't twist my words to project your own ideas.
eat November 29, 2011 at 06:36 PM
Hi Debra First - disclosure I am registered Independent - NO PARTY AFFILIATIONS whatsoever. Saw your website: which states "funding—which is spent for teachers, textbooks, supplies, new initiatives, and operating expenses—comes from the Board of Education budget which is requested and approved each year during the annual budget process. " Is that statement entirely true or perhaps missing some pieces? If you look at the process, doesn't the budget get a cursory review by the board of finance (I seem to remember someone from the BOF saying last year -- "6.9% increase {in education funding}is unacceptable"), then it got reviewed and trimmed by the Board of Ed (down to about what -- 3-4%??), then off to the RTM, then Board of Finance??? Can you explain on your website the process and who actually "approves" the board of education budget? Thanks!
Debra Ritchie November 29, 2011 at 07:34 PM
Dear eat, I am hoping to address your questions on the website. Thank you.
James Palen November 30, 2011 at 03:50 AM
Just got done watching this video: Check it out ... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t6qtxUdll94 If our kids got on the bus each morning and went to a school that was as run down as the current senior center, this town would be up in arms and would want something done about it. Oh, wait, some of the schools were that run down and we did do something about it - we tore them down and built new ones. As for the $6.9mm cost of building the senior center at town hall -- that is the price of what it costs to build a new senior center and the byproduct is consolidating 3 properties into 2. The "cost" to tax payers is $440,000 per year as we aren't paying for the center upfront. That number sounds pretty close to the $360,000 that will likely be spent in perpetuity to introduce a foreign language program to the elementary school. I certainly hope that a PAC called "StopTheLanguage" isn't set up. I think the right foreign language program in our elementary schools would be great. Let's not dance around the issue: The "No" side of the referendum "knows" that if this project does not happen, it will be "years" until a new one is approved.
Vickie Riccardo December 01, 2011 at 11:49 PM
Mr. Palen -- Do you have any substantive information to back up your assertion that: "The 'No' side of the referendum 'knows' that if this project does not happen, it will be 'years' until a new one is approved."? Everyone seems to agree that we need a new Senior Center, and it's a credit to the Town that we have the will to undertake replacing the currently deteriorating facility in tough economic times. The disagreement is about whether the Shuffle is the best and most cost effective way to reach the laudable goal of replacing our Senior Center. Reasonable people differ, and it is their right to express their views via referendum.
Debra Ritchie December 01, 2011 at 11:54 PM
Vote Yes Darien. The time is now. visit www.voteyesdarien.com
sebastian dangerfield December 02, 2011 at 01:25 AM
Ms Ricccardo, If you were to try your best at describing the number of years it has been since the town recognized the need for a new senior center, and today, how long would you venture it has been? If you ask me, it has been at least since 2002. So, I dont think its unreasonable to conclude that it can be many more years. I doubt either one of us can pinpoint exactly why its taken so long, so the conclusion would have to be, there is no end in sight, if this plan gets voted down. If the anti-shuffle people had an alternative plan (not just a back of the envelope estimate ) perhaps we could say it could possibly done in 2-3 years? But they dont, I would think it is logical for not only the anti-shuffle crowd to know it will be years, but also everyone who pays any attention to the matter. Are you saying you think you could put a plan together and have it built in a few months? If that is what you believe, then I would ask that you explain to all of us why it has taken 10 years to get to this point, and why it would be different going forward.
James Palen December 02, 2011 at 02:35 AM
Vickie - I have had many conversations with those opposed to the shuffle but I do not have a document signed by them whereby each of them state how long it would take to do the following: 1. Develop a new proposal for senior/community center 2. Develop a new long term solution for 35 Leroy 3. Develop a new long term solution for affordable or senior housing at Edgerton 4. Get approval from the BOS, BOF and RTM to appropriate money to conduct another design study [4a]. Hold referendum regarding such expenditure 5. Get approval from the BOS, BOF and RTM to appropriate more money to do another full architectural design [5a]. Hold referendum regarding such expenditure 6. Complete a full engineering and design study 7. Give the public and RTM subcommittees 4-6 months to study the project and provide comment 8. Get approval from the BOS, BOF and RTM to bond for the necessary funds to build senior center [8a]. Hold referendum regarding the expenditure of such funds 9. Get approval from the BOS, BOF and RTM to sell 35 Leroy [9a]. Hold referendum regarding the sale of 35 Leroy 10. Build the project My sincere apologies for “assuming” that those opposed to the current senior center / shuffle project “know” that this would take years. However, I and others believe that if the current project does not go forward, it would be 2-3 years until a new senior center was erected. For me, that is too long to not take advantage of a great plan.

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