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Amagansett Parses Senior Center Plan

Thu, 04/11/2024 - 12:31
In response to criticism that the proposed height of the main lobby and dining rooms would make the center highly energy-inefficient, the design team “has been directed to explore lower ceiling heights in the dining room,” according to information from the town supervisor's office.
R2 Architecture

The Amagansett Citizens Advisory Committee, which in recent months has been debating the pros and cons of the proposed new East Hampton Town Senior Citizens Center, did so again on Monday night; this time, however, without input from its town board liaison, Councilman Tom Flight, who was ill.

His absence, like an elephant in the room, meant that a great many thorny questions posed to him the month before went unanswered, or, more precisely, answered — in a 10-page printout issued by Supervisor Kathee Burke-Gonzalez’s office and distributed to members — in language that was almost unanimously derided.

Over and over, Rona Klopman, the committee’s chairwoman, urged the group to read the town’s response with care. “Read what the benefits are!” she said, laughing. “The list they have is trivial. Board games? . . . It’s public relations. If you read it, we’re all just bingo players.”

To be fair, there were some nuggets in the document. The cost of the project, estimated in November at $31.6 million, has come down to $28 million, or, as the printout says, “The town board has informed the [design] team that the project needed to be value-engineered by $28 million.” An initial decision not to use solar panels on the building’s roof is also being reconsidered, as is the use of stainless steel shingles for the exterior. And, in response to criticism that the proposed height of the main lobby and dining rooms would make the center highly energy-inefficient, the design team “has been directed to explore lower ceiling heights in the dining room.”

Under “potential funding opportunities,” the document notes that the town has already applied for a total of $5 million in federal and state funds and will continue to do so. “The difference between the construction costs and the grant funding will be bonded for over a 25-year period.”

 A show of hands among the 12 committee members present revealed that not one of them uses or has used the current senior center, but at least half do use the Y.M.C.A. East Hampton RECenter, chiefly for the pool. In fact, as Charlie Whitmore urged last month, a pool and a gym, in that order, headed the list of what Monday’s attendees — most of whom were over 60 or close to it — want in a new building.

Neither amenity is included in the town’s plan, apparently on the grounds that the Y provides both of them. “The Y is a great facility,” one man remarked, “but it’s badly overcrowded from May to October.” With that in mind, he said, “the board can’t say we already have a facility.”

And why not a gym, or, as some suggested, a “fitness center dealing with physical therapy?”

There should be a gym in the basement, said Tom Field, except that there is no basement. Ms. Klopman, shaking her head, referred the members to a passage in the printout that explains why not: “A basement would trigger the need for two means of egress . . . two sets of stairs plus an elevator. With the nature of the building being for seniors, who expressed during the programming that they wanted to avoid the use of stairs, the programs that made the most sense to put downstairs were storage and maintenance programs.”

However, it continues, “Hauling equipment and storage items up and down stairs and providing stairs and elevators wide enough” to transport them would add “more square footage and expensive excavating to the building.” And so, it concludes, “After reviewing many options, a one-story double-loaded corridor building proved to be the most efficient.”

Leaving aside the question of what that could mean, Mr. Field said, bluntly, “It is ludicrous to waste the space where a basement should be. A gym should be there.”

Other hankerings, some fanciful, some common-sensical, included “offices for visiting professionals in agencies tailored to seniors” — a speech pathologist for people who’ve had strokes, an income tax adviser, a gerontologist, a hairstylist (“Who has hair?” someone scoffed); yoga classes. (“Yoga doesn’t cut it, unless it’s restorative.”) In the end, Bill DiScipio proposed that the town board’s printout be “run through A.I., to see what we really need.” 


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