Vacant: Senior center that wasn't

Enterprise file photo — Michael Koff

A community center meant for Guilderland’s Senior Services program sits empty more than a year after this open house was held to show off the new space, which features offices, a kitchen, and a living and dining area.

GUILDERLAND — The town’s Senior Services program was supposed to have a new home in a senior housing development, but it never came to fruition, and one resident demanded to know why.

Frances Hahn, who, since 1998 has led a group exercise class for the seniors at town hall, stood up at a board meeting on Dec. 1, and asked why the program had not been moved to the Mill Hollow development, after former Supervisor Kenneth Runion had accepted the keys and performed a ribbon cutting there one year ago.

The plans for Mill Hollow, on Frenchs Mill Road, at the site of the old Bavarian Chalet, included 84 condominiums for people age 55 and up.

The newly-appointed supervisor, Peter Barber, told Hahn at the meeting that he believed the builders of Mill Hollow, Buck Construction, had declared bankruptcy, but Steve Buck, one of the owners of the company, said this week it wasn’t true.

In April 2014, Runion announced that, as part of the town’s approval process for the Mill Hollow development, the original developer of the project, Jeff Thomas, who later sold it, promised the first floor of the community building to senior services.

The town would be responsible for the maintenance of the building, which would feature offices, dining and social areas with fireplaces, a kitchen, and a porch.

“Our program utilizes quite a bit of space, and we’re running out of it,” said Runion at the time.

In December 2014, a ribbon-cutting was held in the community building, and Runion said he expected Senior Services to be using it by the summer of 2015.

But Hahn, at last week’s meeting, said that, just that morning, she’d led her exercise group at town hall, and wanted to know why they had never transitioned to the new space.

“We have been making do,” she told The Enterprise, noting events for seniors sometimes have to be canceled as the town hall space is used for elections, blood drives, or employees’ meetings.

She told The Enterprise that, in June, the town had purchased furniture and gone over to the new building, and found the elevator out of order and the floor warped.

“We deserve a nice space,” said Hahn.

Barber speculated that the builder had gone bankrupt and the community building had never been finished.

Steve Buck, this week, said the company had never declared bankruptcy, but it was “looking to refinance the project.”

 

The Mill Hollow Development, built by Buck Construction, is unfinished, because not enough of the condominiums for seniors sold. — Enterprise file photo, Michael Koff

 

The condominiums, with a starting price of $279,000, had not sold as well as expected, he said.

There had been 11 deposits received, and the company needed a minimum of 13 in order to set up the homeowners’ association.

“We decided to switch from condos to rental apartments for seniors,” said Buck. The project’s current lender does not finance apartments.

The community center, he said, is ready to use, but the town “never took it over.”

“The reason we had an expansion in the floor is the town never turned the utilities on,” said Buck. “That can’t be remedied until the town turns them on.”

Barber told The Enterprise he had heard rumors about financial difficulties with the project and had heard that bankruptcy might have been an issue.

Even though that turned out to be false, he said, the town still would not want to take over the title of the building until the project was complete.

“The upper floor is unoccupied,” said Barber. “You don’t want to get into a situation where you’re heating a whole building and only using half of it.”

He said that it is his understanding that all senior programs scheduled at town hall are able to be held, but the new center would have minimized any potential inconveniences with schedule conflicts, such as overlapping events.

Mary Ann Kelley, the director of Senior Services, said programs are held daily. There are 15 programs held at town hall; exercise programs held at outside locations; three recreational trips per month, from April to October; and grocery shopping and medical transportation three times per week.

Programs are canceled only due to conflicts at the town hall “on occasion,” she said.

“It doesn’t happen very often,” said Kelley. “The police and the supervisor know my programs are in that room daily, so, unless it is something incredibly important, they make other arrangements for their stuff.”

Buck said there is a two-phase plan in place for building the apartments and finishing the project.

The first phase, to build 44 apartments, is set to break ground on March 15.

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  • While apartment approvals have been the Guilderland Planning Board’s bailiwick as of late, the board is now looking at approving a 58-lot single-family cluster subdivision near the intersection of Old State and Fuller Station roads 

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