SAC partnering with architect on Senior Center

For aging in place on Block Island
Thu, 08/22/2019 - 7:30pm

The Senior Advisory Committee has teamed up with renowned architect Jan Wampler in proposing the construction of a senior adult residential center to serve Block Island’s elder community. The committee has been actively seeking ways to create an assisted living facility dedicated to seniors who want to age in place on the island.

“My desire as an architect is to make this the ideal place on Block Island; to have something special that nobody else has, particularly in Rhode Island,” said Wampler at the committee’s meeting on Tuesday. “There would be no facilities like this one in Rhode Island.”

Wampler stressed that this building would not be a community center, which he pitched to island residents three years ago. He added that the facility “could have many of the amenities that a community center has.”

“My goal is to make this a place that everybody can’t wait to get into,” he said, while also noting that he is elderly. “I’m in your group,” he said, which elicited laughter from the committee.

Wampler, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for 40 years, as well as recently at the University of South Florida, said he and his students visit a potential site location to educate and inform their design.

“I have volunteered my services to the town to draft a preliminary design for this senior center. This would be done with my students,” said Wampler, who has owned a home on the island for 30 years that he says is “solar powered and off the grid.”

Wampler said that 25 years ago he “designed the first adult senior center in Boston, which was done through a Section Eight program that I don’t think exists now.” He said the 12-bedroom facility, located in Jamaica Plain, is called the Angela Westover House, designed for seniors over 62 years of age. “It has been extremely successful.” 

Wampler met with New Shoreham Town Manager Ed Roberge and Sam Bird, the town’s Facilities Manager, to discuss his proposal for building a facility on the island, which is in the discussion stage. He displayed a slideshow presentation to the town officials during that meeting.

“I’ve talked with Ed and Sam about this project, and I think the number of bedrooms is not clear yet,” said Wampler. “My concern is how do we make this a place everybody looks forward to going to; as opposed to a nursing home? So I’m interested in hearing what kind of amenities we could include that would make it a special place.”

Wampler said he asks his clients for “their dream list: everything they could possibly want, and what they might live without.” He has distributed a questionnaire to the public seeking five priorities for amenities for a new senior center, to help guide him with developing a preliminary design beginning in January of 2020.

“I could come back in May with some of my students to present a design to you,” he said. “I find that architecture is a way of getting things moving. When you have a model or drawing sitting in front of you it’s much more real than discussions. So I’m hoping this will help.”

As for funding the project, “I don’t know myself, at the moment, regarding the funding for this,” said Wampler. He did not provide an estimate for the project since a design has not yet been rendered.  

Committee member Jennifer Phillips, who is also a realtor on the island, asked Wampler if it is “challenging to design something like this not knowing where the site is?”

“No, we would identify a site prior to designing,” said Wampler, noting that he drafted the design for the community center based on two different sites: Ball O’Brien Park and the Faulkner property. “So we’ll do the same thing this time,” he said.

“We may use the Faulkner site again,” he said, although “there are issues with it that make it complicated.” Wampler said it would be a good location, since it’s in close proximity to the Block Island Medical Center. He did not name another site for the facility.

The Senior Advisory Committee seems to be in consensus that the facility would be an eight to 10 bedroom assisted living facility, which could either be new construction, or a modified existing property. The committee will be hosting a public discussion about the project on Wednesday, Aug. 28 at 11:45 a.m. at the community center. Lunch will be served at the meeting.

Islandwide Code Red notification system

The committee appeared to be alarmed when it learned that there is no islandwide Code Red notification system for seniors. The system would be utilized by public safety officials to notify seniors during an emergency situation.

Phillips said she called the Police Department and spoke with dispatcher Beth Rousseau. “She said, ‘No, there is nothing in place, and yes, I think it would be a good idea to bring it to the Town Council.’” 

“Unbelievable that we don’t have it. Unbelievable,” said Gail Pierce. 

Bill McCombe, co-director of the island’s Emergency Management Task Force, told The Times that the island will soon be implementing a “free code red system.” The system is provided through Rhode Island’s Emergency Management Agency. “We’re in the process of looking at the best way to implement it on the island,” said McCombe, who noted that people have to sign up for notifications that are made via cellphones and landlines. McCombe added that the system is being implemented as a requirement for compliance by the town’s water company.     

Senior Ride Service

“We are going to reinstate our senior ride service,” said Gloria Redlich, SAC Senior Coordinator, who noted that SAC has $2,000 at its disposal through a donation to pay for the service. SAC operated a pilot ride service with a small amount of grant funding beginning on Jan. 31, 2019. Rides for seniors using the island’s taxi service cost $3 round-trip, with SAC paying the balance to taxi owners. That funding ran out before the winter was over. No timetable was given for reinstatement of the service.

No more Verizon

The committee voted unanimously (7-0) to discontinue using Verizon’s internet service beginning on Sept. 1, when its two-year contract expires. “We pay Verizon $73 per month for terrible internet service,” said Chair Sandra Kelly, who noted that SAC streams videos for seniors at the community center. Kelly said Kristin Baumann, Director of the Island Free Library, may be purchasing hotspots that can be rented, which could be an option.  

The next Senior Advisory Committee meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 17 at 9:30 a.m.