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WILTON – Unless new arrangements can be made, the SeniorsPlus Community Center will be closing.

Current plans call for the center’s kitchen, which prepares the food for the Meals on Wheels program, to be relocated to Lewiston by July 1, 2009. Once that happens, the center is expected to close unless another agency can be found to share expenses.

The reasons for the possible closure of the center are increasing costs to run it and, overall, less federal and state funding coming in to the tri-county area agency. This is according to a SeniorsPlus administrator who was presenting the agency’s request for funding totaling $18,000 for the county’s six-month budget at a meeting on Tuesday.

“The facility as a whole is too expensive,” said Debra Parry, the director of financing at SeniorsPlus, based in Lewiston. “We’ll still serve people but not pay for that facility.” Parry’s response about the closure came after Wilton Selectman Russell Black, who serves on the Franklin County Budget Advisory Committee, said he’d heard the senior center in Wilton was closing.

Today, Connie Jones, community services director at SeniorsPlus, confirmed the kitchen will be relocating to Lewiston, but said a final decision hasn’t been made about the center.

“Even if we close that building, it doesn’t mean we’re going away from Wilton,” Jones said. The production kitchen in Wilton prepares the food for the Meals on Wheels program, some of which is then driven to Lewiston for delivery.

“It’s so far from where we deliver most of our meals,” Jones said. She said a possibility for keeping the center open is if another agency wants to share the center’s space. “We don’t know yet. We’re looking at a lot of things. Maybe someone needs a kitchen and would want to share the space with us.”

The Wilton center schedules several activities and events each month that attract a regular following of not just seniors but other local agencies who serve the disabled such as Work First, Living Innovations and Work Opportunities.

This morning, nearly 20 Bingo players showed up to play as they have for as long as anyone can remember. The center also has a steady group that comes to play Cribbage and Bridge. Exercise classes that use light weights and balance activities and are held twice a week are also popular, said the center’s instructor Debbie Tracy. Anywhere from 12 to 18 arrive ready to work out, she said.

In addition, the center provides a Medicare specialist who comes once a week to help assist those with questions and helps fill out the forms. A caregiver support groups meets once a month, as does the Local Red Hat group. Educational events are regularly scheduled and, in general, the center serves as an information resource.

In the meantime, SeniorsPlus administrators are preparing for the loss of the Wilton center.

Options for providing the services without the center include holding the senior-specific exercises at Franklin Memorial Hospital and giving out meal vouchers for area restaurants instead of serving meals at a center. The center currently serves lunch at noon Monday through Friday. Jones said the number of people coming for lunch varies, depending on the day’s activities, but averages 15 people a day.

Parry said the Chuck Wagon in Livermore Falls is interested in participating in a voucher program with SeniorsPlus and there may be others.

“We’ve gotten a great response to the idea of going to Chuck Wagon,” Parry said. “Some like the center concept and some like the Chuck Wagon idea.”

County Commissioner Fred Hardy of New Sharon, said he’s been at the center at various times in the 9 years its been at the site on Route 2.

“The Wilton center is a place for seniors to get together. I understand cuts have to be made, but the situation there is more important,” Hardy said. “It’s about the camaraderie the center provides.”

“We cannot support the full cost of that facility,” Parry said, but, “the intent is not to withdraw services in this area.”

Last week, it was reported here that for the first time, SeniorsPlus, has had to initiate a waiting list for its Meals on Wheels program. To date, 88 people who qualify for the federally-funded program as home bound and living in Androscoggin, Franklin and Oxford counties have been placed on the waiting list.

“I hope people are not just assuming the center is closing, but now know what the situation is,” Jones said.

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