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Dedham

A new entry in town’s search for senior center

Proponents of a town senior center at Dedham’s Endicott Estate remain fixed on that plan despite an alternative, tentative proposal to build a multi-purpose municipal building on Rustcraft Road that could include a senior center.

Norfolk County Commissioner Francis O’Brien of Dedham, an advocate of the Endicott Estate plan, characterized the Rustcraft Road alternative as an obstacle. When town selectmen proposed looking into buying or leasing the large Rustcraft Road building last week, they said the option had just become available and did not yet know if it was a viable one.

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“If they go that route and they don’t go the Endicott route, I know I will never see a senior center at that location,” O’Brien said in an interview Monday. “Our old-timers in their 70s will never live to see a senior center at Rustcraft.”

Dedham’s Council on Aging and hundreds of local petitioners also favor siting a senior center at the town-owned Endicott Estate. But in a close vote in November, Town Meeting tabled that plan in favor of establishing a committee to look at various sites in town.

Critics of that decision point out that committees have been looking at sites for decades, with no results.

Selectmen Carmen Dello Iacono and Michael Butler last Thursday presented the alternative idea to buy or lease a portion of the building at 100 Rustcraft Road for a combined facility that would include a police station, town hall, senior center, and other uses. The building now houses the Red Cross, but has more than 200,000 square feet of vacant space, said Dello Iacono.

“To build single facilities for each of these identified needs would require a long-term financing and building plan,” he said at the meeting. “To build one single facility that could accommodate many of the identified municipal needs is another option to be considered.”

Dedham remains the only town in Norfolk County not to have a senior center, according to O’Brien. The Council on Aging now uses a 2,400-square-foot space on Washington Street.

“It’s just sad,” O’Brien said of the longstanding effort to build a senior center. “Every time we go to do something, there’s always a roadblock. People say, ‘We all want it.’ But we never get it.”

Council on Aging president Leanne Jasset said the Rustcraft Road facility was not yet a game-changer because there was not enough concrete information about it.

“It’s an interesting and exciting proposal, but at this point in time it is not changing my mind,” she said.

O’Brien and Jasset have been pushing an effort to overturn the November Town Meeting vote at a Special Town Meeting April 8. Both said they did not think the possibility of a facility on Rustcraft Road would alter Town Meeting members’ vote next month.

Fred Civian, a member of the group that successfully petitioned to establish the committee looking at potential building sites, disagreed.

“What I’ve been hearing around town is that people know the committee has started to do its work,” Civian said. “Town Meeting wants to see the results of the committee’s work before it takes further action.”

In addition to the discussions about the senior center, town officials have also been working toward a proposal to build a new police station on High Street in a parking lot formerly owned by St. Mary of the Assumption Church.

Dello Iacono had pushed for investigating a combined municipal facility in October 2011 with a presentation that led to a vote for requests for proposals. No one responded with bids at the time, but Davis Cos., of Boston, contacted the town after closing its deal on the Rustcraft Road property on March 8, Dello Iacono said.

Davis Cos. bought the property for $21 million at a public auction as part of a foreclosure, he said. The property is about 50 acres, according to Butler.

The two selectmen said the advantages of a multi-use municipal facility would include efficiency, increased interaction between departments, and a shortened list of facility needs in the town. The site on Rustcraft Road would also provide ample parking and have minimal impact on the surrounding area, Dello Iacono said.

Ideally, he said, he would like to see a plan ready for a vote by this November’s Special Town Meeting.

Selectmen voted unanimously on March 14 to authorize the town administrator and Dello Iacono to conduct a preliminary meeting with Davis Cos. to determine options.

“This is an opportunity that is still in infancy stages,” Selectman James MacDonald said at the meeting. “We feel as though it is our duty and role to investigate the option, and tonight is the first step in doing that.”

While the senior center proposed at the Endicott Estate would be built using private funds raised primarily in town, the combined facility would most likely be financed through a capital fund set up using the local meals and hotel/motel options tax. The fund, established in 2009, grows by about $1 million per year, according to town officials.

Dello Iacono said existing buildings such as the town hall, public works facility, and police station could be liquidated, leased, or in some other way generate revenue for the town.

E-mail Dave Eisenstadter at eisen.globe@gmail.com.

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