Editor's Note: Middletown Patch will offer a full interview with Mayor Dan Drew Thursday on the issue. Please check back at 6 a.m.
Members of the expressed anger and frustration Tuesday at reports that the mayor is considering a new location for the long-awaited senior center.
The news that Mayor Dan Drew has hired an architect to draw up preliminary plans for a senior center, to be located at an expanded city hall complex, could not be independently confirmed by press time, but Democratic Councilman Ron Klattenberg has said the mayor informed him that these are his intentions.
The city purchased the former St. Sebastian School on Durant Terrace, known as Eckersley Hall, with the intention of renovating it for a new senior-community center. Chairman Ed Dypa told the committee members that he felt "blindsided" that plans may now change.
“I received a call from [Drew’s administrative aide] Joe Samolis on Wednesday informing me that the mayor had plans to expand city hall and put the senior center into city hall — that kind of blew my mind,” Dypa told members.
Given that the $1.6 million senior-community center project is now projected to max out at $4 million, Drew said in having an architect conduct a preliminary review, he is acting on the taxpayers' behalf. "It's perfectly reasonable, especially given the fact that the project has exploded in cost. We have a responsibility to examine our options, to make sure this investment is fiscally sound."
Many commission members — including Councilmen Phil Pessina and Klattenberg — also sit on the , which has met every two weeks for nearly a year to develop a plan.
The chair said he had many questions after learning of the mayor’s vision.
“How the heck were plans made up? How is it being paid for? Does the Council know about it? I don’t know how [the mayor] hired an architect,” he said.
At the March 26 Eckersley Hall Building Committee, Klattenberg reported Drew wanted the committee to know he is considering a city hall addition that would incorporate a senior/community center, according to the minutes. Among members, according to the minutes, “there was concern that space was inadequate for a senior/community center.”
Dypa said he was frustrated about being left out of the loop on the mayor’s intentions.
“I’m upset that [commission member William Wasch] and I met with the mayor three to four weeks ago and we were not made privy to the plans,” Dypa said. “It’s a slap in the face, especially with Ron and Phil being Councilmen.”
In a passionate statement, Pessina recalled his late mother asking him years before to make sure the city gets a senior center.
He told commission members he felt all the Eckersley Hall Committee’s efforts, including trips to other senior centers around the state, will mean a plan that will best serve the city’s seniors — now and in the future.
As for Drew’s plans, Pessina said, “It’s very interesting at this point that the mayor has a concept in his mind but I know what the community has done and the committee has done in researching where we are today and we’re not just putting up a building to put up a building and we’re not just putting up a senior center just to put up a senior center.
“There has been a lot of input. This was definitely not done in a vacuum,” he said.
Pessina said he was hopeful Mayor Drew would see the merits of the committee’s concept.
“I think what he’s going to see, once the presentation is made, he’s going to see the thoughtfulness that went into it, he’s going to see the background, the experience, everything we’ve done,” Pessina said.
“I can’t believe for the life of me that they’re going to provide in that city hall what we’re going to provide in Eckersley Hall.”
On May 1 at 6:30 p.m. in Council Chambers, the Eckersley Hall Building Committee will present a workshop for senior citizens and residents on the new senior-community center concept ahead of the September referendum. “That’s why we need the support on May 1,” Klattenberg said. “It’s energy-efficient, it provides natural light, it’s not substandard.
Klattenberg has asked the mayor to present his plan for the senior center after the May 1 workshop. “We need to move this project forward. Everyone needs to know what is at stake,” Klattenberg said.