Meetings address senior center, elderly housing
Back-to-back meetings at Town Hall Wednesday morning tackled ways to improve conditions for seniors in Darien. At 9 a.m., the Commission on Aging voted to support the Facilities Study Task Force, provided that the senior center is the major driving force. An hour later, the task force convened for its second meeting.
First Selectman David Campbell, who originally proposed the building swap which would raze the current senior center, shift the center to the Board of Education facility and migrate the BOE to the old library, back in December, sat in on the meeting, along with fellow Republican Selectman and Task Force Chairman Jayme Stevenson. Democratic Selectman Callie Sullivan, who is also a member of the task force, serves as the BOS liaison to the commission, and also attended the meeting.
While commission members agreed that searching for a safer, better facility for the senior center is a driving charge, they also took the time to talk about ways to improve other aspects of life for Darien's aging population.
"I think we should continue to encourage people to look at seniors as a whole in Darien," Sullivan said. "Seniors don't have enough affordable housing in Darien. We can have the most wonderful senior center in the world, but if seniors can't afford to live here, then they won't come."
Sullivan told commission members that she had researched the amount of designated affordable senior housing in surrounding towns. According to her findings, Darien has 30 units of designated affordable senior housing, while New Canaan has 119, Greenwich has 291, Westport has 50, Wilton has 115 and Weston has one.
"No one will disagree that Darien needs senior affordable housing. What I can't say is whether it should be at 35 Leroy," Stevenson said. "I think it's very appropriate for your organization to talk about senior affordable housing. Clearly we need it. I would also throw into the mix market-rate housing."
As for moving the current senior center to the Board of Education facilities, Campbell told the board it could increase participation at the center.
"I truly believe that if you give Beth [Paris, senior center director] an appropriate space, the senior center is going to grow. You're going to bring people together and build community," he said. "Unfortunately in the last 20 years, it's been a step child out there on Edgerton."
During the task force meeting, Susan Swiatek, director of Parks and Recreation, which oversees the senior center, discussed the potential benefits of moving the facility to a more central location.
"If we're here, the library's right there. What a great opportunity for interagency collaboration," she said.
Sullivan also pitched the idea of a concession stand that could be geared toward seniors during the day and toward guests who attend sporting events at the gymnasium in the evening, which would provide a "community-center feel" as well as additional revenue.
Moving the facility to the current BOE location would bring seniors closer to the center of town, Campbell said. As for whether it will work out, that's the charge set forward for the task force.
Swiatek and Paris both discussed the need to change the definition of senior in Darienites minds, shifting the image it sparks from pre-nursing home adults to an AARP-like definition of 50-plus-year-olds.
This new way of looking at "seniors" in Darien will help create more of a community feel, they said.
The task force will meet again next Wednesday morning, and the commission will hold a special meeting on Feb. 24 to discuss the findings of the task force.