Town Seeks Grant for Senior Center Addition

            Rochester Selectman Woody Hartley has been working on potential grant funding to add a three-season room to the Senior Center at 67 Dexter Lane. Simultaneously, Hartley was also looking into a MassDOT Shared Streets grant that would have funded a solar canopy over a parking lot in the area of Town Hall, but that idea was put aside.

            The Board of Selectmen held two meetings in the last eight days, one on December 30 and another on January 4. Hartley laid out the two projects on December 30.

            At the time, Hartley was working to confirm the $165,000 price tag for the Senior Center project while seeking a vote to authorize Town Administrator Suzanne Szyndlar to sign the grant application. “It’s not visible from the street, so I don’t have a problem with it,” said Selectman Brad Morse, making the motion. The board voted its approval, and Hartley said approval would also be needed from the Rochester Historic District Commission.

            Eric Arbeene from the Southeast Regional Planning and Economic Development District (SRPEDD) “did a lot of work on this and put it together,” according to Hartley.

             As Hartley presented under the category “Investments in the Future,” the Senior Center project is meant to address an ongoing effort. Officially, the Rochester Council on Aging seeks to make permanent a pilot program implemented during the coronavirus pandemic to expand upon services, meals, and activities for seniors and the community.

            During the spring and summer months, the COA bought outdoor tents and restarted the Coffee and Conversation program. Citing the program’s success, a prefabricated, three-season room measuring 64 feet long by 12 feet wide would function as a permanent outdoor space. The room would increase the COA’s usable space by 15 percent.

            With the expansion, social distancing requirements can continue to be met while, at the same time, programming could be maintained and even expanded.

            Objections to the solar canopy were more logistical than conceptual, and the location was central to Chairman Paul Ciaburri and Selectman Brad Morse’s concerns. “The other one is more important,” said Hartley of the Senior Center project.

            In other business, Szyndlar told the selectmen that Marion’s Benson Brook transfer station is temporarily closed until mid-January due to the ongoing removal of CMW Refuse Disposal District equipment and the installation of new equipment. Updates will be forthcoming on Rochester’s town website,

            Morse had said during the December 30 meeting that Benson Brook “will be up and running as soon as they can get some electrical stuff done.”

            Szyndlar said Benson Brook stickers are available for purchase at Rochester Town Hall.

            In the January 4 meeting, Szyndlar publicly thanked Public Health Nurse Connie Dolan. “During this pandemic, she has been extremely beneficial to the townspeople and to our employees. And while I know that’s a big part of her job description, I want to thank her really for going above and beyond and helping people navigate through the COVID-19 requirements and the diagnosis.… She’s been a big help in the process, so I just want her to know that we appreciate her dedication to the town. I’ve heard from residents as well that they have been very happy having her as a resource,” said Szyndlar.

            Ciaburri echoed Szyndlar’s sentiments, noting Dolan’s and Health Director Karen Walega’s successful efforts in gaining state approval for an emergency dispensing site plan. “It went very smoothly, and in record time– two days. It should have taken weeks,” he said.

            In a follow-up, Walega explained that Rochester’s emergency-management team met with state representatives seeking approval for a drive-thru COVID-19 vaccine site at the Department of Public Works barn on Ryder Road. State approval was achieved within two days. “That doesn’t usually happen. It was an awesome undertaking by all who were involved,” said Walega.

            In other matters, the selectmen also voted to accept a SEMASS PILOT payment of $327,830.

            In her December 30 report, Szyndlar told the selectmen that Plymouth County-administered CARES Act funding was extended to December 31, 2021, noting that while Rochester is “almost fully” expended, the extension provides extra time for the town to process invoices and apply for reimbursements.

            Rochester town facilities have a new phone system with upgrades, a new set of prompts, and extensions. Callers must add ‘1’ to any former extension, and it becomes the new one. (i.e. Extension 12 becomes 112). Callers to the Town Hall and Annex buildings will now be prompted to choose by department rather than name.

            “It allows us to answer our phones from anywhere now,” said Szyndlar.

            The selectmen held an executive session on January 4 to discuss contract negotiations with town vendors and contract strategy for negotiations with non-union personnel.

            The Rochester Board of Selectmen’s next meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, January 19, at 6:00 pm.

Rochester Board of Selectmen

By Mick Colageo

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