McAllister still would like to save Buttonwoods Center
The Buttonwoods Community Center senior activities have relocated or closed down in keeping with the mayor’s plan to sell the former elementary school, but Ward 7 Councilman Steve McAllister holds out hope that the facility can carry on.
McAllister, accompanied by City Council President Joseph Solomon, met with Mayor Scott Avedisian Thursday. Also present were chief of staff David Picozzi and Meg Underwood, director of the Pilgrim Senior Center.
Both Avedisian and McAllister called the meeting cordial. Neither side backed down from their positions, however.
“I didn’t change his mind,” said McAllister. “He didn’t change my mind.”
McAllister isn’t alone in his thinking. The City Council unanimously approved a resolution to keep the community center open, one of the few times during his tenure as mayor the council has unanimously rejected one of his initiatives.
Avedisian maintains it is too costly to operate the center ($74,426.60 annually) and that capital improvements projected at $463,000 make it unreasonable to keep when senior activities can be housed at the Pilgrim Senior Center as well as the Cooper Armory on Sandy Lane when that opens later this year.
He plans to have the center appraised and then advertise for bids. Sale of the property will require council approval.
McAllister believes the center should be saved. He has talked with Westbay Community Action, which has expressed interest in leasing additional space if not relocating the Westbay Marketplace to the building. Westbay director Paul Salera has said the agency is interested if an expanded lease or purchase fits within the Westbay budget.
“We’re sending the wrong message. We’re closing a community center,” McAllister said.
He said he has received numerous calls, emails and letters from seniors who used the facility to play cards or bingo on a weekly basis. Two of those card leagues have relocated while a third closed. Bingo was relocated to the JONAH center in Oakland Beach.
McAllister maintains many of the seniors using Buttonwoods – between 300 and 400 weekly – won’t travel the distance to meet elsewhere and that they will lose the socialization that was important to them.
He said Westbay offered use of the center’s main meeting room if it should lease more of the building or acquire it. Westbay and Comprehensive Community Action Program (CCAP) rentals generated $26,400 annually.
McAllister suggests the city lease space to Westbay for another three months that would “give us more time” to explore options. What he doesn’t want to see happen is for the building to close “and sit there and rot.”
“I don’t know what the rush is [to close and sell it],” he said.
McAllister doesn’t dispute the building needs work. Nonetheless, he adds, “I can’t support selling it at this time.”
McAllister said he feels the mayor is receptive to ideas to save the center, although a plan hasn’t emerged at this point.
In an email Wednesday, Avedisian said additional lease income from Westbay would not “amount to a cash infusion that makes the building more viable.”