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In Amagansett, Questions About Senior Center Persist

Wed, 05/15/2024 - 23:09
A rendering of the view approaching the new senior citizens center
R2 Architecture

It became increasingly apparent, during Monday night’s monthly meeting of the Amagansett Citizens Advisory Committee, that discussion of East Hampton Town’s proposed new senior center may remain on center stage for a long time to come.

The evening’s guest, the East Hampton Town administrator, Becky Hansen, had just finished an impressive summing up of her many responsibilities large and small — overseeing the budget and accounting departments, coordinating requests and demands from a dozen or so other town agencies, resolving altercations among employees, taking reports from the public on everything from potholes to phragmites removal — when she was asked about the center, and replied, with a smile, that it was not part of her job.

The questioner, Dawn Brophy, secretary of the citizens committee, pressed on nevertheless. “Are there financial caps on the center” in regard to “change orders, or construction materials?” she asked. “So it just doesn’t balloon?”

“You never know until it goes out to bid,” Ms. Hansen answered. “Contracts are accepted for an amount, and if there’s any deviation from that amount, it goes back to the town board for approval.”

Michael Diesenhaus broke in. “Are we at the point where we know enough to send out bids?”

No, she replied. (Peter Van Scoyoc, the former town supervisor, had projected in October that construction could begin “in late June 2024.”) Ms. Hansen left the room shortly after, to a long round of applause, leaving Councilman Tom Flight, the town board’s liaison to the committee, in the hot seat.

He was asked about the color of the building’s newly decreed “cement siding.” “That’s as yet undetermined,” he said. The height of the ceiling? The number of trees to be cut down? Why no basement, for a pool or gym? What about having the food pantry located inside?

Mr. Flight answered gamely, but it was clear that numerous questions about the new senior center have no answers as yet, and a late-June groundbreaking seems at best improbable. A basement, the councilman explained, would be cost-prohibitive, and the building was too public a place for a food pantry, which would also cause traffic jams. Meals on Wheels, however, is to get an office within, “because it provides a service the town cannot: the delivery of meals.”

Mr. Flight observed also that there is at present no provision in the town code under which the new senior center would fall.

Nancy Peppard, a noted gerontologist who lives in East Hampton and frequents the current deteriorating senior center on Springs-Fireplace Road herself, took the floor. “If you do a building, you do a feasibility study,” she began, to determine who is actually going to use the facility. “A senior center is a lifestyle choice. The new people coming in, with huge houses, are not going to tell their friends, ‘I use the senior center.’ You are going to have a lot of space that is not being used. The size is ridiculous.”

“So, what size is appropriate?” asked Jaine Mehring.

“That’s why you do a feasibility study,” Ms. Peppard answered. She has expressed strong opposition, in letters to The Star, to the town’s having engaged R2 Architecture to design the building. (R2 Architecture is a joint venture of Ross Barney Architects, a Chicago firm, and Ronnette Riley Architect of New York City and Bridgehampton.) “You can’t hire an architectural firm without a feasibility study,” she told the group.

The primary reason for a senior center in a town such as East Hampton, she went on, is “socialization, adult care, and medical care,” because “there are so many people with dementia.” Ms. Peppard believes the present plan should be abandoned, and replaced by prefabricated buildings attached to the existing kitchen facilities on Springs-Fireplace Road, that could be built within months and added onto as needed.

Other topics touched on Monday night included the profusion of signs in the hamlet announcing that such-and-such a business or individual has “adopted” a road, generally taken to mean keep it clear of litter. But, said Bill DiScipio, “No one ever cleans it.” Actually, said Ms. Mehring, who is on the town’s litter committee, that committee is “in process of getting the Highway Department to hold people more accountable and revamp its standards.”

Mr. DiScipio and Mr. Diesenhaus, both of whom live in Broadview, the old Bell Estate area off Old Stone Highway, expressed concerns about fire pits being built by newcomers “dangerously close to houses.” Ms. Hansen promised to pass that on to the right department.

Finally, Councilman Flight announced the coming to Amagansett of two special events, possibly three, at the start of the Memorial Day weekend. On Friday, May 24, the Main Street restaurant Il Buco al Mare will celebrate an anniversary; 150 people are expected, with two music sets. That afternoon, just across the street, a  new clothing store, Toast, will hold an opening party for about 40 invitees, inside the building.

The third event, Hester Street Fair, looks iffier. A pop-up similar to an existing open-air market in Manhattan’s Seaport district, it is proposed to happen every Friday from 11 a.m. to 5:30, all season. The town board is considering that proposal, Mr. Flight said, but “not looking favorably” upon it.

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