Portsmouth Senior Center seeks deal with CFP Arts

Community center supportive of hosting some key senior programs, manager says

By Jim McGaw
Posted 2/22/21

PORTSMOUTH — With nowhere else to go except Middletown after its building closes June 30, the Portsmouth Senior Center has reached out to another local organization in hopes of keeping services …

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Portsmouth Senior Center seeks deal with CFP Arts

Community center supportive of hosting some key senior programs, manager says

Posted

PORTSMOUTH — With nowhere else to go except Middletown after its building closes June 30, the Portsmouth Senior Center has reached out to another local organization in hopes of keeping services for the elderly in town.

During Monday night’s Town Council meeting, Town Administrator Richard Rainer, Jr. announced the senior center recently contacted the CFP Arts, Wellness and Community Center to see if some key senior programs could be relocated to Common Fence Point as a temporary measure.

“The Common Fence Point (Improvement Association) board is enthusiastically in support of helping in any way they can,” Mr. Rainer said.

Later on in the meeting, during a discussion on civic support requests in next year’s budget, Portsmouth Senior Center Director Cynthia Koniecki confirmed Mr. Rainer’s comments.

“We’re trying to work out a deal with them,” said Ms. Koniecki, who said she’d rather keep some senior programs in Portsmouth rather than have members travel to the Middletown Senior Center. The neighboring town has agreed to allow Portsmouth seniors to use its Green End Avenue facility while Portsmouth explores a longterm solution to its problem. 

The council voted unanimously Feb. 8 to enter into a memorandum of understanding with Church Community Housing (CCH) on the development and use of the former Ann Hutchinson School and Coggeshall School properties for a mix of affordable housing and a senior center. The agreement allows CCH to pursue funding for engineering and architectural studies to develop a master plan at the town-owned properties, but the council would make the final decision on what path to choose.

Members of the senior center have made it clear they want programming to remain in Portsmouth, however. A new group, Friends of Portsmouth Senior Center, has also been formed to explore those options. 

On Tuesday, Conley Zani, president of the Common Fence Point Improvement Association, said the organization was contacted by the senior center to explore the possibility of temporarily moving some of the most valued programs and services to CFP Arts. 

“The CFP Board is enthusiastically in support of helping in any way we can. We have a brand-new facility that is ADA-compliant and has state-of-the-art technology,” Ms. Zani said.

Last week, she said CFP hosted Helen Mathieu, chairwoman of the senior center’s board of directors, and talked about the senior center’s needs and how CFP might be able to assist.

“There is more work to be done to truly understand the financial and operational implications for all involved, but CFP is confident we can successfully help serve our Portsmouth seniors and welcome working with the town and the senior center to do so. This is fully aligned with CFP’s mission,” said Ms. Zani.

$84K requested

The senior center, which is housed in a town building but is not part of municipal government, has requested $84,000 in civic support in the 2022 fiscal year budget — the same as it currently receives.

Ms. Koniecki said if senior center members used the facilities in Common Fence Point, some or all of the civic support allotted by the council could go to the CFP center to subsidize the cost of senior programming. 

In arguing to maintain level funding, Ms. Koniecki said one of the most critical services the senior center offers is its meal site program. From January 2020 to January 2021, the center served 4,325 meals, the majority of them during the pandemic, she said.

COVID has also taken a heavy toll on fund-raising, with the center being forced to close its thrift shop and cancel a summer yard sale, she said.

Council Vice President Linda Ujifusa said she wanted to see what happens with discussions between the senior center and CFP Arts before the council commits to a dollar figure on civic support, “because it would impact the amount of money the town would put in.”

MaryEllen Martin, a resident who’s been advocating for the senior center, said it’s important the senior center receive its full request, “so they can entertain any other possibilities” to remain in Portsmouth.

Ms. Ujifusa replied she wasn’t implying the town should grant a smaller amount. “I’m just not sure as to where it will go. I just want to understand how the money is going to be spent,” she said.

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