$1 million grant would help pay for senior center; Town would have to fund architect.


Byline: Paula J. Owen

ASHBURNHAM - Renovations are under way at the Town Hall, construction of the new public safety building will be finished in August and the town is looking at a proposal to build a new elementary school, but some are afraid the 900 seniors in the community are being overlooked and deserve to have a better space, too.

The town would need to spend $80,000 to get a $1 million Community Development Block Grant from the state's Department of Housing and Urban Development and Ashburnham's Council on Aging Director Mary Lee Muessel said that would make a big difference for area seniors using the senior center and its services.

"Providing rural services to seniors is difficult," Mrs. Muessel said.

If voters approve spending the money for architectural designs for renovating the senior center, the town will be eligible to receive the $1 million grant with $800,000 going into renovations and the remaining $200,000 going to grant writing fees and Council on Aging services, Mrs. Muessel said.

Margaret F. Connor, 74, drives to the senior center three times a week after picking up her friend Juliette Comeau, 81, for socializing, needlepoint and lunch.

Mrs. Connor, who takes care of her disabled 76-year-old husband at home, said she does not know what she would do without the center.

"It's my way of just kind of letting my hair down for a couple of hours," she explained in a slight English accent. "I need to."

She moved to New Hampshire from England in 1955, and then to her home in Ashburnham in 2000 after her husband had his first stroke in 1997, she said. At first she only utilized the meals on wheels program at the senior center. They did not offer many other programs, she said.

"In the last six or seven years it has really picked up," she said. "Now there are line dancing classes, needle point - everyone is doing something different."

Right now the senior center shares space with the police and fire departments in the Veterans Memorial building, formerly used as an elementary school. It was built in 1949 to honor World War II veterans.

When the $7.2 million public safety building is complete this summer, the senior center that now takes up only 2,500 square feet of the building can expand into the rest of the usable space now housing the fire and police departments, Mrs. Muessel said. That will give the center a total of 8,580 square feet in the 11,000 square foot building for programs and services, she said, but renovations are...

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