An overflowing crowd amassed Thursday morning to witness the ribbon-cutting of the town’s new senior center.
A parade of local citizens, town officials and members of the state government spoke, noting the immense volunteer labor and dedication that led to the 60 South St. building’s construction. Many took note of the vast upgrade the new center represented over the previous senior space, a cafeteria at the town hall.
Cliff Snuffer, who helped lead fundraising efforts for the building, noted that the senior center property was once an industrial site. The town’s ready access to industry had fueled its growth in the past, but that benefit came with a cost: a Superfund site.
“The price was contamination, created over the decades,” he said, adding that a coalition of town, state and Environmental Protection Agency officials had worked to ensure the land would be cleaned up. “Much can be accomplished through non-belligerent collaboration.”
Selectmen Chairman Mark Gallivan said the inadequate senior center space had been a dominant topic of conversation for 20 of the 23 years he had lived in town.
″(A senior center) is not just a building where people can play bingo,” he said. “It’s really a social services agency, where people can come in and be directed to the things they need to lead a good life.”
Gallivan said Town Meeting had dedicated $6.8 million toward the building’s construction, knowing it would not be enough to finish the project. In addition to substantial help from the Walpole Co-operative Bank (the new building bears the bank’s name), group of local residents, he said, had actively sought donated funds from townspeople. That group was able to raise $1.4 million from 1,300 donors.
“I think that says a lot about Walpole,” he said, noting that a person at Town Meeting had expressed skepticism that anyone would contribute to the project.
Emmett Schmarsow, of the state Executive Office of Elder Affairs, said he had been in just about every senior center in Massachusetts, but he had never heard of one receiving so much money through donations.
“I don’t think there’s a senior center in the commonwealth built with that level of support,” he said. “It’s worth every penny.”
Walpole Co-operative Bank President Joseph Scholl said the idea for a standalone senior center arose more than a decade ago.
“That little flicker (of an idea), over the years, became very bright,” he said, adding that those involved should be very proud of their accomplishment. “To the individual who said (to selectmen) that they wouldn’t get a dime, (I ask) ‘What do you think?’”
Council on Aging Director Kerri McManama welcomed seniors to their new home in town.
“What a holiday gift to us all,” she said. “Seniors, you inspire us each day you invite us to be a part of your life story.”
Former Selectman Eric Kraus said, when he was first running for office, he had been dismayed to learn the senior center was a mere cafeteria. He said, to seniors who had been going out of town for access to proper services, they need not travel any more.
EPA Regional Administrator Alexandria Dunn said the day represented the mission of her agency - repairing damage and restoring an asset to the community.
“No one wants a steel fence around a site that can’t be accessed,” she said, noting that the project would be receiving an EPA reuse award.
State Sen. Paul Feeney - as well as state representatives John Rogers, Shawn Dooley and Louis Kafka - read citations from their respective legislative houses in honor of the event.
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