FRAMINGHAM – Senior citizens, including Council on Aging members and members of the Friends of the Callahan organization, are unhappy with the Spicer Administration’s decision to move the health offices at Fuller Middle School to the west wing of the Callahan Center.
They are not alone. Many of the City Councilors are unhappy with the decision by Mayor Yvonne Spicer’s Administration.
“That is going to happen,” said Kelly McFalls, the spokesperson for the Mayor and the City to SOURCE on Wednesday. “It will happen in mid-June.”
“This is a win-win situation,” said McFalls. “As many of the health services offered are for our older adults.”
She said moving the health services from Fuller Middle to the Callahan Center was needed due to the construction of a new Fuller Middle School, approved by voters in 2018.
Friends of the Callahan Center Chair Mark Goldman, who is also a member of the Framingham Council on Aging, emailed the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office to request an injunction of the move on Wednesday.
Goldman said a $1 million donation for the Callahan Center, stipulated the money and Center could only be used for seniors. He believes the move of the health department into the Center is a violation of the Gift Act.
Amy Bryson, a compliance specialist with the non-profit and public charities division of the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office said legal would investigate the complaint to Goldman.
In the meantime, members of the Framingham Council on Aging are scheduled to meet with Mayor Yvonne Spicer, Parks & Recreation Director James Synder, Facilities Director James Paolini, and Health Director Sam Wong on Tuesday, April 9. Council and Friends of the Callahan members are encouraging senior citizens to attend their next meeting.
“I am very troubled by the proposal to take space from the Callahan Center for the relocation the Health Department offices,” said Framingham City Councilor Cheryl Tully Stoll.
” I was truly stunned to learn the news that the Mayor plans to relocate the Health Department and child immunization services to the Callahan Center,” said District 4 City Councilor Mike Cannon, who said he learned of the move from a couple of the Council on Aging members, appointed by the Mayor.
The City Chief Operating Officer Thatcher “Kezer made no mention of this during the Mayor’s report at (Tuesday) last night’s City Council meeting,” said Cannon, in an email to the entire Framingham Council on Aging. “I find this completely unacceptable and profoundly disappointing. Hopefully the Attorney General issues an injunction, but I and a number of my colleagues on your City Council are actively working on correcting this matter ASAP.”
Besides a lack of communication to the Council, Kezer also has not communicated with the School Building Committee either.
Kezer, who represents the Mayor on the Framingham School Building Committee project on the new Fuller Middle School, has not been attending meetings, said School Building Committee co-chair Charlie Sisitsky.
Sistsky explained that while Fuller Middle School will stay open for students during the construction, the access to the back of the school building, where the health department is located, will be closed during the construction, which is slated to begin at the end of June.
“If Thatcher had showed up to any of the meetings, we would have been willing to work with him and the Mayor, and the administration on finding a better solution that moving health to the Callahan Center,” said Sisitsky, who is also the elected City Councilor for District 1.
“I was the Town Manager when we received the generous grant to purchase and open this building as a senior center. I cannot recall the specific legal restrictions, but I know that there was broad consensus that it be solely a senior center,” said City Councilor George P. King. “Given the growth of services there they have completely filled the building and I think the best public policy decision is clearly it remain only a senior center. I know space is tight, but I do not believe this is a good solution.”
Sisitsky said it was poor communication by Thatcher and the Mayor not to tell the Council about the plan, and to ignore stakeholders in the decision.
“It’s unfortunate. I’m sure there were better ways to be handled this. There are a lot of people who could have come together and come up with a better solution,” said Sisitsky.
Sisitsky, who served on the original committee to identify sites for the Callahan Center, said he knows first hand what the needs of the Callahan Center are and how much space they need.
“This is not the best idea for the Board of Health nor the Callahan Center,” said Sisitsky.
The City’s spokesperson told SOURCE on Wednesday this was a “win-win solution” as the seniors use the health department’s services.
“If anything the Callahan Center deserves more resources in support of their mission to support seniors in Framingham – not a significant additional burden that seems totally inappropriate,” said District 3 City Councilor Adam Steiner.
“Our senior population is growing rapidly and taking space from them is not only a short-sighted idea but, based on the donation restrictions placed on the money used to build the center, is possibly illegal,” said Stoll.
“I see very little synergy between the Board of Health and Callahan to co-locate them in fact there are reasons not to co-locate them,” said City Council Chair Dennis Giombetti in a letter to the editor to SOURCE.
“I was involved in the purchasing and opening of Callahan Senior Center as a member of the Town’s Finance Committee,” wrote Giombetti. “The $1.5 million private gifts that were given to the Town to purchase and build out the center were based on that exclusivity for our seniors. The need has not declined over the years it has only grown so I think we should continue to honor that effort and find another location for the Board of Health.”
Giombetti suggested the old library in Saxonville as a potential site.
“I was informed this morning that the move of the Health Department has been under discussion for at least five months,” said Tully Stoll. “Our seniors had this dropped on them on just this Monday. If the people who made the decision thought it was a such great idea–why did they hide it? Why not consult and collaborate for the best outcome for all of the people of Framingham?”
Editor’s Note: In full transparency, the Friends of the Callahan Center have been an advertiser with SOURCE since 2016.