Salem Council Green Lights New Senior Center
After more than three decades of failed attempts to get it done, it looks like Salem will be getting a new state-of-the-art senior center.
Thanks to some last-minute compromises, Salem city councilors voted 10 to 1 Thursday night to approve a financing proposal from Mayor Kim Driscoll to pay for a new $4.5 million Community Life Center at the intersection of Boston and Bridge streets.
The council's historic decision came less than 24 hours after a four-hour standing-room-only informational meeting at the city's current Senior Center on Broad Street that left many of those in attendance with more questions than answers.
According to Council President Jerry Ryan, the turning point in negotiations came early Thursday morning when he hammered out a deal with Driscoll that alleviated some of the concerns he had with her proposal.
The Deal That Got it Done
Prior to announcing the compromise, Ryan noted that the Boston Street location wasn't his first choice but he was willing to move forward because "people have died waiting for a new senior center" and he felt now was the time to act.
Language added to the proposal Thursday night: Construction must commence on the building within 12 months of the bond order being approved; the city will hire a full-time Council on Aging director; an environmental liability agreement will be entered into between the developer and the city before Sept. 1, 2013.
After hearing that a compromise had been reached, many councilors applauded both Ryan and Driscoll for working together to get a deal done.
Thursday Night Surprises
Ward 2 Councilor Michael Sosnowski, who has been a vocal opponent of the project, announced reluctantly that he would be changing his stance and voting for the proposal - though he said he felt he was "blackmailed into doing it."
"This whole thing absolutely stinks...I'm going to hold my nose while I say yes because it stinks," Sosnowski said, adding "this is probably one of the worst things I've ever done as a councilor."
Ward 3 Councilor Todd Siegel, who reiterated Wednesday night that he wouldn't vote on the proposal because the informational meeting wasn't broadcast live - also changed his stance when he realized that the motion would have to be approved again at next week's council meeting before being finalized.
The only councilor voting against the project was Councilor at Large Arthur Sargent, who stood firm in his belief that the seniors of Salem deserved a stand-alone senior center at a better location.
Click the video attached to this post to watch Thursday night's roll-call vote and Driscoll's response to the decision.
What do you think of the council's decision? Have you been hoping for a new senior center in Salem? Do you think it should have been built somewhere else?
Let us know in the comments section below.