A decision to expand social day services in New Bedford led to the relocation of the Senior Center from Buttonwood Park to Council on Aging buildings in the North and South ends last month. The move came with little advance notice, upsetting some seniors.
Essentially the site changes were a swap, with the Senior Center moving from Buttonwood Park to two sites, Hazelwood Park in the South End and Brooklawn Park in the North End, and the two Social Day programs located at those sites, moving to Buttonwood Park as one combined program.
The decision will allow the city to increase its Social Day numbers from a maximum of 55 participants to 80, filling a need in the community, according to COA Director Debra Lee.
“We don’t want to end up with a wait list and be forced to turn people away,” said Lee. “It’s an unmet need in the city.”
Many factors went into the decision, Lee said. Two primary ones were the larger room space at Buttonwood which will hold more participants and the reduction in transportation costs that comes with transporting participants to one location instead of two.
But for many older adults who attended activities at Buttonwood, the change was an unexpected event that Senior Center continued…
disrupted their routines.
At a March 1 Ward 5 meeting on the topic, about 30 attendees expressed concerns, some, including Terry Mozaz, saying they were upset about losing access to activities and felt disrespected at being given no advance notice.
“We are upset at the lack of respect, and at the attempt by the city to pit us against a paying program for which they should find an appropriate location that does not displace the seniors,” Mozaz said by email after the meeting, referring to paid Social Day programs.
The decision to switch sites was made in early February, according to Lee who said staff were told a week later and the board voted to approve the plan at their February meeting. A city press release made the news known publicly on March 1, two days in advance of the Buttonwood center closing as a senior center and five days before it reopened for Social Day programming on March 6.
The press release noted declining participation at Buttonwood as one of the reasons for the move. In a statement, New Bedford’s Public Information Officer Holly Huntoon said, “Unfortunately, the use of traditional senior centers has fallen for several years. For example, since 2016, the average daily attendance at the Buttonwood Senior Center declined 70 percent. This has forced a reassessment of how tax dollars are utilized to serve the needs of the city’s seniors. If there is an unforeseen reason to believe the COA’s recommendation was unfounded, we would certainly consider it.”
The statement also noted that Senior Center staff were telling people who came to the center prior to March 1.
Mozaz created a petition against the plan which she said she submitted to the Mayor’s office with 25 signatures. She did not hear back from them or city councilors where she also left the petition, she said.
Lee agreed that the decision to move the senior center away from Buttonwood was partly due to the site not drawing the number of people they had expected to activities. Staff and activities are grant funded, she said, and she must report attendance numbers to receive funding. Some of it is due to changes in how senior centers are used.
“It’s not the senior center it used to be,” Lee said. “People don’t go and hang out for the whole day. They go for one activity.”
Addressing those at the March 1 meeting, COA board member Nancy Feeney said the relocation decision focuses on using COA buildings in the smartest way.
“We are repurposing the buildings. We are not closing anything and that really needs to be understood here,” she said.
Feeney acknowledged that communication of the changes was late but said that information must come from the Mayor’s office before it can be released to the public.
“Personally, from the board, I am not happy with the Mayor’s office,” she said. “We knew about the decision a while ago, but Deb’s hands are a little bit tied. We are told that everything has to go through the Mayor’s office and that’s fine if the Mayor’s office looks at it and does it in a timely manner.”
“Being able to have two buildings now where people can go and they can choose the programs that they want to go to will be positive and we will make sure the chair yoga program is offered two times a week because that is a very popular one,” she said.
Feeney also noted that Brooklawn and Hazelwood buildings are accessible via existing bus routes.
New Bedford has reorganized its COA functions before, closing Brooklawn Senior Center to open a social day program there in 2016. At that time, senior center activities were held in Hazelwood and Buttonwood parks until the social day program expanded to the Hazelwood site. The Buttonwood building was closed for renovations in June 2018 and reopened in February 2019. It closed in 2020 for mandated lockdowns related to the COVID-19 pandemic and reopened on April 4, 2022.
Since Buttonwood’s closing as a senior center, Mozaz visited the Hazelwood location for activities but said she had a hard time navigating the roads.
“I find it dangerous driving out of (Hazelwood) because you’re pulling into a street with poor visibility of coming vehicles to get out of there, and especially dangerous when you’re also sharing that street with school buses and children coming out of school. Try it yourself around 3 p.m. on Fridays,” she said. “Many of us walked to (Buttonwood) which is a plus for the safety of seniors, and a benefit for the environment (less drivers on the road/streets).”