New Bedford’s Buttonwood Senior Center is becoming an adult day care center, and the city’s seniors who have utilized it will instead have programming moved to other community centers in the North and South Ends.

The adult day care programs that currently run at the Rosemary Tierney Community Center at Hazelwood Park and the Brooklawn Community Center are at or nearing capacity, and consolidating the programs at the Buttonwood Senior Center in the middle of the city will allow the programs to go from 55 participants to about 80 participants.

Mayor Jon Mitchell said it is a matter of participation in adult day care services going up, and participation in traditional senior center programs on the decline, and that the idea originated with Council on Aging Director Debra Lee.

“The Council on Aging proposed using the Buttonwood space for adult day care to consolidate there and take on more folks who need that service, then use the two other sites, which are smaller, for traditional senior centers,” Mitchell said in his weekly appearance on WBSM Wednesday. “I said OK, I think the logic of that holds up, go ahead and do that, you have no issue from me at all.”

“They need space, and the available space is at Buttonwood,” he said, noting that facility has “more physical space than the other two combined.”

Tim Weisberg/Townsquare Media
Tim Weisberg/Townsquare Media

Mitchell also said that daily attendance at the Buttonwood Senior Center has dropped 70 percent since 2016. This is despite an extensive renovation to the facility in 2019.

“The people who work for the Council on Aging work very hard to put on those programs, but the reality is the use of that center has plummeted,” he said. “The reality is people just don’t use the senior centers the way they used to, and it costs the city money to put on the programs, so while we do our best to bring seniors in, the volume has gone down.”

Mitchell also noted that most of those who attend the programs at Buttonwood either drive themselves or take the Council on Aging shuttle, so it shouldn’t be an issue for them to instead get to the North End and South End facilities.

“The number of seniors who walk to neighborhood senior centers has also dropped,” he said. “They’re less neighborhood-based than they once were.”

The adult day care programs will move to Buttonwood beginning March 6. The final day for seniors to attend adult day care in the North and South Ends will be Thursday, March 2, and the two current adult day care programs will be treated to a moving party at the Fort Taber Community Center on Friday, March 3.

The Rosemary Tierney Community Center in New Bedford's South End
Tim Weisberg/Townsquare Media

The Rosemary Tierney and Brooklawn Park senior centers will be opened on March 6 to give those interested a chance to stop by and fill out a survey indicating the activities they would like to see there.

The grand opening at Rosemary Tierney will be on Friday, March 17, and the grand opening at Brooklawn will be on March 24.

According to a press release, both grand openings will include a free, catered lunch, but reservations are required.

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Although the change was formally announced Wednesday, seniors heard about it on Friday while attending the Buttonwood Senior Center. Some called in to the mayor’s radio appearance to vent their frustration with the lack of information from the City and that their city councilors didn’t have any more information to provide when contacted.

Mitchell called it “unfortunate” that seniors were informed that way and before the City had a chance to notify city councilors about the switch.

“Unfortunately, word got out at the senior center, not only before we had a chance to talk about it publicly with a press release, but we didn’t have a chance to talk to the city council about it, so they were caught blindsided,” he said.

“So that’s a mistake on somebody’s part,” Mitchell said. “I guess ultimately, it’s on me.”

Tim Weisberg/Townsquare Media
Tim Weisberg/Townsquare Media

Mitchell also said that those concerned about the senior center moving to two smaller spaces should look at it instead as having more availability in those spaces.

“If they have to run more classes, then they’ll have to run more classes. Not everybody has to be there all at the same time,” he said. “That may be one way to deal with a space issue.”

He also floated the idea of a regional approach to senior programming, since many seniors will travel from one community to another for programs in which they’d like to take part.

“There may be a need for a regional approach, so that there's no duplication, so that there's some variety and that they’re open for seniors from all over,” he said. “Not that we’ve reached out to the towns about any of this, of course, but it just seems to me that it might be a natural direction all of this should be going.”

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