Once a school that was renovated as a senior center before its latest role as a community center, Buttonwoods Community Center may be sold, Mayor Scott Avedisian confirmed last week. According to the administration, the center is closing March 1.
Avedisian said he is looking to advertise requests for proposals to purchase the building at the corner of Buttonwoods Avenue and West Shore Road. Sale of the building would require City Council approval. That could be an uphill battle.
Ward 5 Councilman Ed Ladouceur said about 400 seniors use the center on a weekly basis – it is across West Shore Road from the West Shore Terrace Housing complex and that closing the facility would force them to travel to the Pilgrim center.
“How much are we going to keep beating up on our seniors?” he said Monday. Ladouceur said there are “many reasons” not to close Buttonwoods. He notes that it serves as a polling location and that agencies renting the center are collectively paying $25,000 in rent annually. The Comprehensive Community Action Program (CCAP) has been operating youth education and workforce development programs out of the center for more than a decade.
Academy staff said Monday they had heard rumors the center would close but had not been notified. With a full-time staff of four, they operate a number of programs from the center including job training and GED. An estimated 40 to 50 students use the building weekly.
Westbay Community Action operates the Westbay Adult Education Academy from the center. Westbay director Paul Salera said he first heard rumors the center might be for sale a year ago and talked to the mayor. He said the agency remains interested in acquiring the building but that would hinge on the cost and what it needs in repairs, which he estimated could be as high as $300,000.
“It needs a lot of work,” he said, citing the roof.
Salera said three full-time personnel work from the center and that he has realtors looking for a storefront from which to operate the program. If he can’t find a location he said the program would be temporarily housed in the Westbay administrative office conference room.
“I would have hoped they would let us stay until the building is sold,” he said. Westbay has a month-to-month lease of $1,200.
Ladouceur asks where CCAP and Westbay will run their programs and why rental proceeds haven’t been used to maintain the center.
“That building has just been let go,” he said.
Ward 8 Councilman Joseph Gallucci questioned closing the center when a third of the city’s population is 65 years old or older and aging. Also, he noted senior programs would now be concentrated in the northern sector of the city, leaving nothing for those in the central and southern portion of the city.
“What’s the intention of closing Buttonwoods?” he asked. He said he had not been briefed by the mayor on the plan.
Ward 7 Councilman Steve McAllister said he had received inquiries about the closing of the center and met Monday with the mayor.
McAllister said he thinks the center is a great community resource but also understands it is in need of repair. He said he would be talking with other members of the city council.
Avedisian dispelled rumors that there is a deal to sell the property to CVS Health that bought the former Oxnard Pharmacy on the opposite side of West Shore Road. The community center site would put CVS on the intersection, which it is not now.
The mayor said there have been no discussions with potential purchasers of the property and what has prompted his thinking are needed building improvements, the building’s minimal use for city purposes and the fact that additional municipal space is becoming available at the Lloyd Cooper Armory on Sandy Lane that has been turned over to the city.
Avedisian put the cost of roof and restroom repairs at Buttonwoods at $60,000, which he has difficulty justifying when activities and city offices at the center could be relocated. Two city employees from the city’s department of human services work from the center. Card clubs use the center’s meeting room two and three times weekly.
Avedisian said Human Services offices would be relocated to expanded office space in the City Hall Annex. As for uses of the facility by groups, such as the senior card players, he thought they could be relocated to the Pilgrim Senior Center and the armory. He said the armory would have adequate parking – a concern if all activities were relocated to the Pilgrim Senior Center, while providing an intergenerational activity. Working with the Warwick Boys and Girls Club, the mayor is looking to run youth programs from the former armory.
Meg Underwood, Senior Services director, expects to accommodate many of the activities at Pilgrim. She said additional games would be held for the Hi-Lo-Jack and poker leagues using Buttonwoods. In addition, she said, space would be made available at the center for the cribbage league, Red Hats, Gaspee Seniors and the Rhythm and Rhymes group run by the Trudeau Center.
Those playing bingo weekly at Buttonwoods, she said, are more than welcome to join at Pilgrim bingo that is held twice weekly and one Sunday monthly.
“While change can be difficult, most of the people I’ve spoken with about the move to Pilgrim have been very gracious and were more than receptive to the move. I’m hoping those who are relatively new to Pilgrim will see all of the other wonderful programs and services we have to offer and become more involved in the center. It’s really a great opportunity for everyone,” Underwood said in a statement.
The former Buttonwoods elementary school was expanded to become the city’s first senior center. At one time the city operated three senior centers: Buttonwoods, Pilgrim and JONAH in Oakland Beach. Pilgrim is the only senior center now.
Buttonwoods, with its ample parking lot and corner location, would appear to be prime property for commercial development.
Avedisian did not venture what he thought the building might sell for or its future use.