OAKLAND — The former Regional School Unit 18 superintendent’s office building on Heath Road, currently vacant, soon will become a senior center for the district’s five towns: Belgrade, China, Oakland, Rome and Sidney.

Oakland town councilors unanimously approved a facilities use agreement between the town of Oakland and RSU 18 Superintendent Carl Gartley at a meeting Wednesday evening. Under the agreement, the town will be allowed to use all but two rooms on the main floor of the 41 Heath St. building to “provide programs and services that meet the needs of senior residents in Oakland and provides them with an avenue to meet other members of the community and engage with each other socially,” as stated in the document.

The town will lease the facility from the school district for $300 a month until June 30, when the agreement expires. Until that time, RSU 18 will finance custodial services, utilities and routine repairs and maintenance of the building, though the town will pay for any damages caused by people using it as a senior center. If the town and school board agree to renew the agreement for the coming fiscal year, the agreement states that “the parties shall negotiate a reasonable charge for utilities and custodial services for use of the Premises thereafter.”

Now that the councilors have approved the agreement with RSU 18, the school district’s risk management officials will review the property Monday and address any remaining questions about the viability of the arrangement.

The building will be available for use as a community senior center from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, though no official opening date has been set. An committee independent from both the town and RSU 18 would run the programming and has requested that the town does not impose ideas on it, according to Oakland Town Manager Gary Bowman.

Councilor Don Borman voiced concern about not knowing enough about what the seniors plan to do with the space.

“I’m 100 percent in favor of doing a program for the senior population in town,” he said at Wednesday’s meeting. “There’s a lot of things that we can be doing. But I’m very cautious and a little bit nervous about an open-ended — we have no idea what the plan is, and I guess before we move forward, I’d like to know. … Who is the responsible person? What kind of activities? … I think it’s great to do it, but i think we need a little bit more reassurance that there’s something in there that we can endorse.”

Bowman noted that the senior committee is looking to model their operations off of the Golden Oldies Senior Center in Richmond, which offers activities ranging from yoga to cribbage.

Councilor Bob Nutting acknowledged Borman’s concerns but ultimately approved of the plan.

“I sympathize with a lot of what Don says,” he noted. “It looks like this program is kind of loosey goosey, but … I think we have it on a fairly short leash. … Knowing the people who are involved, I don’t think we are going to have a problem; and if for some reason we did have a problem, we wouldn’t have to continue a commitment for six months. We could make it end. So although I’d like to see it fleshed out a little more and know what the program is a little bit more and what they have planned, I guess I’m confident that if something goes wrong, that we can fix it.”

Bowman added that he thinks there is not a lot of financial risk involved and that a six-month agreement allows for reassessment in June.

“We’re looking at an $1,800 commitment from the town of Oakland to buy them six months’ worth of time up there,” he said. “We can sit down and reassess mid-June to figure out what we want to do after that. If this thing flops, then obviously there’s no commitment for us to move forward on that. In my opinion, I think we ought to go and allow them to try it. It’s a small risk to take, and I see a lot of wins that can come out of this if it’s organized correctly.”

At a meeting on Dec. 12, RSU 18 Superintendent Carl Gartley told the school board that he thinks leasing the facility to the town presents “some great potential for collaboration and goodwill building.” None of the board members expressed disapproval at that time.

Oakland Councilor Dana Wrigley voiced concern about the group asking for money come budget season. Bowman responded that the group has submitted a third-party request for $1,100 to purchase furniture and that the town historically has funded third-party requests for the flower committee that beautifies downtown areas.

Bowman added that a senior center could make the town more appealing to new residents.

“This contributes to the quality of life that our community offers,” he said. “This is what brings people into communities, when you have services and organizations that are healthy and they get government support.”

The creation of a senior center in the Oakland area probably will be a welcome change for the school district’s constituent communities. In November, China residents approved a ballot measure for the town to spend up to $5,000 for a developer to conceptualize a community center and an emergency services complex on an empty town-owned site at 571 Lakeview Drive in that town.

Meg Robbins — 861-9239

[email protected]

@megrobbins

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