New senior center does not solve wait-list problem A widow seeking a social outlet has been waiting for eight months: She objects to paying taxes on a building she can't use
The new Chester Senior Center (Photo by Ginny Privitar)
By Ginny Privitar CHESTER — Officials said for years that Chester needed to build a new senior center because the seniors' old meeting place in the library basement had run out of room. But only six months after the new, $1.9 million senior center was opened to the public, there's a sizeable waiting list. A Chester resident called The Chronicle to complain that she had been on the Golden Age senior club waiting list for months to get into the. She was denied the benefits of membership while paying taxes for the new center all the while. Town taxpayers will pay $1.35 million of the total cost of the new center, with the rest financed by state and county grants. The Chester resident doesn't want her name made public for fear of being closed out of the club entirely. As a grieving widow seeking a social outlet, she really wants to join. "The Golden Age Club monopolizes the senior center," she said. She was told the club’s capacity was 150 members. Records indicate she's been on the waiting list since May and is now number four. The list usually contains just a few names but had swelled to 44 when she asked to join. The board member in charge of membership said she had to wait until the end of January — the end of renewal period — to see who doesn’t renew, and how many new slots open up. During the year, openings come as members drop out because of illness, death, or relocation. In the past month, a record number of members did not renew. The next 22 people on the list were called, but not all of them called back. Building capacity vs. club capacityHank Pierron took over as president of the Golden Age Club after the death of former president, Lois Gordon, last year. Pierron said the capacity of the club — 150 — is the same as that of the building. The new building has the same capacity as the old library meeting room. “The old building inspector told me we could have 150 people in the new senior center, 50 per door,” Pierron said. The double doors count as two, plus the rear door. At a meeting of the club on Feb. 6, Pierron corrected himself. He said he thought the capacity was 150 but learned it was just 99 “because we have a stove.” About 120 members attended the meeting, with 94 remaining to play Bingo. Some suggested that the club add more members. Others said having more than 150 members might make the logistics of arranging trips unmanageable. Yet, the problem of Chester senior citizens paying taxes yet being denied social benefits and town-subsidized trips because of membership constraints remains. Trying to find answersTrying to determine the building’s capacity was no easy task. Lori Streichert, the director of the town's Parks and Recreation Department, is in charge of the building. She did not return a phone call. When tracked down in her office, Streichert said, “I’ve been told to tell you ‘No comment.'" She said she had been instructed to do this by Councilwoman Cindy Smith, her liaison with the town board. Streichert said the building was “not being rented out at this time.” The new building's architect, Michael McCormick of Liscum, McCormick and Van Voorhis, and the engineer for the building, Al Fusco, could not be contacted. Town Supervisor Bob Valentine said, “The building can hold 299 people. If cooking, it’s good for 99 people.” No capacity sign has yet been posted at the building. The original plans for the state that the occupancy is 128. “The building inspector and town engineer will come up with a figure and post it," Valentine said. Town of Chester Fire Chief Pat McKevitt said, “Occupancy should be identified during the design of the building and decided by the code enforcement officer, in this case, Jim Farr, building inspector. The town should have most recent plans. The building inspector would post the generic form, which usually says ‘by order of the fire marshal.’ That’s not us, it’s the town building department.” McKevitt said he’s not sure when the notice of capacity would need to be posted. Valentine said no sprinklers were installed in the new center because they are too expensive. He said he didn't know how much the center costs monthly, on average. He said he would need to work up the figures. The widow on the waiting list believes one solution might be to form two senior clubs. “Why can’t they take the 150 and the 44 (wait-listed last year) and divide them in half, and have people go on two different days?” she said. Growing painsThe Village of Florida senior center has had growing pains too. When the first club grew too large, a second one was formed, and eventually a third. The three split subsidized funding from the village, according to head count. The clubs are managed by their boards. Florida is part of Warwick, which has seven senior clubs. Many local clubs have paid directors. Streichert, whose office is in Chester's new senior center, is in charge of the building and its activities. She does not direct the Golden Age Club, which was formed privately many years ago. Former supervisor Alex Jamieson, who spearheaded the construction of the center, said the capacity of the new building is 199 with tables set up. He said he thinks it’s 299 if used as an auditorium. “We put out over 220 to 230 chairs for the presentation about the ward system with Dr. Benjamin,” he said of a community meeting last year. The 99 number applies only if the kitchen is used all the time, he said. The seating area is 1,000 square feet, which is bigger than the old building. The seating area in the new center is approximately 833 square feet, which is larger than the seating area in the library basement. Jamieson said sprinklers were never an issue because the building's occupancy is under 300. “We had our building inspector look at it and tell us," he said. "Building Inspector Jimmie Farr and I spoke to Al (Fusco) when we were doing this.” Jamieson said he based the new center's rental policy on the Goshen Senior Citizens. “I sent it to the town attorney because I wanted it written up as a contract,” he said. He doesn’t know if that ever happened. Editor's note: Ginny Privitar is a member of the Chester Golden Age Club. Related storiesSee related stories: "Chester supervisor has big plans" "Two major building projects in the works in Chester" "Chester celebrates brand-new senior center"
Editor's note: This article has been updated with added information on the seating area of the new center as compared to the former center in the library basement, and on the capacity as stated in the original plans for the new center.