COA eyes K of C for possible new senior centerBy Jay Turner
With the local Knights of Columbus council deciding it’s time to get out of the hall rental business, the Canton Council on Aging has swooped in with an eye toward making the Pleasant Street property its new home.
While COA Chairman John Friel stressed that the idea is still in the preliminary stages, he did acknowledge that the Council on Aging has been actively exploring the possibility of purchasing the hall for use as a senior center for the past several months — ever since they got word that the K of C might be selling the property.
And that certainly appears to be the direction the Knights are headed in, with the K of C’s trustees, officers, and most recently its members all voting to move forward with the sale, their decision reportedly based on a combination of factors, including a dwindling and aging membership base, a lack of volunteers to staff the hall, and declining revenues.
The remaining K of C members will continue to meet once the building is sold — possibly in one of the two Catholic parishes in town, according to a source.
As for whether the property will be offered to the town or simply go to the highest bidder, that much has not been decided yet, although the Council on Aging is still very much a player, according to Friel.
“It would be a nice deal for the elders in this town to have a nicer place,” he said, adding that the existing center, which is located in the basement of the Housing Authority building on Washington Street, is “too small and chopped up” to house many of the COA’s current programs and events.
With a larger and more accessible senior center at the top of the COA’s wish list, Friel said the council’s members unanimously supported the idea of buying the hall when it was first brought up at a meeting in January, and their interest grew “tenfold” after a recent tour of the site.
Friel said the K of C building, which has a hall that holds over 200 people, would “satisfy an awful lot of the COA functions” and would also help to attract new members.
The K of C facility also has plenty of parking — 86 spaces compared to 11 at the existing senior center — and the building is on one level, making it ideal for senior patrons.
Friel said the COA has been busy doing their “due diligence” on the property, which has included hiring an independent contractor to inspect the plumbing, heating, and electrical systems. They are also in the process of putting together a complete business plan and have already received the verbal approval of both the Zoning Board of Appeals and the Board of Selectmen, which is authorized to make the purchase on behalf of the COA without having to go to town meeting.
“We have passed every single hurdle,” noted Friel, who is admittedly rooting for the deal to go through at this point.
In terms of the financing, Friel said the COA believes it has enough funds saved from past donations to purchase the property and also get a “great start” on whatever renovations might be necessary.
Of course, the COA would love it if the Knights offered some kind of deal on the property, which has an assessed valuation of $502,000; however, they are prepared to make a competitive offer and are already planning a fundraising campaign — mainly targeting industry sources — in order to complete the project.
And unlike in 2006, when the COA tried unsuccessfully to secure a $4 million override vote to build a new senior center next to the police station, this latest effort, if all goes according to plan, would not cost residents any additional money.
“Our goal is not to ask for any additional tax dollars,” emphasized Friel, who was also chairman at the time of the failed override.
Had it been approved, the override would have netted the town a brand-new, 14,000-square-foot facility, complete with amenities including a farmer’s porch, a fireplace, and a room for arts and crafts.
However, Friel said the COA is excited about the possibilities that the K of C building presents, and they are confident that the facility could serve the present and future needs of Canton’s growing senior population.
They are also equally ambitious when it comes to the renovations, with Friel predicting a quick turnaround time from construction to grand opening.
“Our goal,” he said, “assuming the sale went through, would be to get the whole thing done in four months after the deal is consummated.”
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