Letter: We can find more coveted uses for the Walley School

Posted 1/6/22

To the editor:I read with interest the proposed plan to turn the Walley School into headquarters for the elderly. The cost would be $2 million to stabilize the building and another $1.8 million for …

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Letter: We can find more coveted uses for the Walley School

Posted

To the editor:

I read with interest the proposed plan to turn the Walley School into headquarters for the elderly. The cost would be $2 million to stabilize the building and another $1.8 million for improvements. Presumably that $3.8 million would be needed to stabilize and improve the building for any use.

I agree with Mary Parella that its use as a Senior Center doesn’t make much sense, given multiple floors, limited parking, etc. In addition, the Town currently has senior programming at Benjamin Church, Franklin Court and at Quinta Gamelin, a 15,154-square-foot building. The Bristol Senior Center annual allocation is approximately $150,000 in addition to the costs of running and maintaining Quinta Gamelin.

It sounds like a solution in search of a problem.

Bristol’s population is approximately 23,000 people of whom approximately 20 percent are over the age of 65, according to the latest census, or about 4,600 people. Given that Quinta Gamelin is used primarily for recreation and the many churches in Bristol have programs serving the seniors, as well as that provided by the Senior Center, do we really need to dedicate a 13,354-square-foot building on the Town Common for a senior center? How many of those 4,600 people want a senior center?

In a quick, non-scientific poll in the past week, of the 22 people over the age of 65 I asked, not one wanted to go to a senior center. The comments ranged from, “I hang out with my guy friends at a local coffee shop” to, “I am very active in my church and not looking for another activity”, to “I belong to a bridge group and that’s all I need,” to, “I attend Zumba classes, but not looking for senior-specific activities.”

In 2011-2012, the Town considered renovating and adapting Walley School as a Community Arts Center, again an attempt to figure out how to re-use Walley School.

I think it’s time to figure out how Walley School can earn its keep producing revenue for the Town instead of having the Town spend what will be more than $4 million given inflation in construction materials, plus the cost of individuals to run programs.

I am not against seniors, but many seniors live on a fixed income and cannot afford more increases in their taxes, which this project will surely produce.

In Portsmouth, the town last year discovered that their senior center needed to be closed due to a State Fire Board-mandated sprinkler system installation and a number of other expensive changes needed. Their estimates for fixing and renovating a building about the size of Walley School were almost $6 million...which could well be what the ultimate budget at Walley is.

Given the number of other pressing needs in town for improvements in drainage, streets, sidewalks, sewage, etc, a new Senior Center doesn’t seem like a prudent investment, any more than spending that money on a child care center or a teen center would be.

How about leasing it as a restaurant and event center? Or rental apartments? Or offices? The Town could spend the money to stabilize the building with a long term tenant could fund the improvement costs, with the added benefit of additional tax revenue to the town.

Georgina Macdonald
180 Ferry Road
Bristol

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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.