MILTON — The sign on the front of the Milton Community Center says “Home of the Ballston Area Senior Citizens.”
But it hasn’t been their home in months, and senior citizens are getting frustrated.
Dozens of Ballston Spa-area seniors waved home-made signs and drew honks of support from passing traffic on Northline Road Wednesday as they protested the town of Milton’s continued use of the Milton Community Center as a temporary town hall.
The building has been occupied by town government offices since March, when the Town Hall on Geyser Road was evacuated on an emergency basis due to mold problems inside the building caused by a leaky roof.
Since then, the Ballston Area Senior Citizens have had nowhere for their meetings. With the local COVID-19 situation stabilized, the group would like to get back to holding at least small in-person gatherings.
“I miss a lot of the smiles,” said Patricia Carlton of Malta, one of those protesting. “We’re a smiley group. For seniors, it’s hard to find a place to get together.”
About 40 seniors attended the picket, waving signs with messages like “Senior Lives Matter” and “Seniors Need to Meet Give It Back.”
“COVID is one thing, but we need our home back,” said Carol Moll, one of the demonstrating seniors.
Though it has been six months since the town government moved into the building — which the town owns — on an emergency basis, the Town Board is still developing a long-term solution for what to do about the problems at the Town Hall. Several meetings between town officials and the seniors about how long the work will take resulted in answers the seniors found unsatisfactory.
“We totally understand where they are coming from,” said Town Supervisor Benny Zlotnick, who came out and talked with some of the seniors.
He said the seniors will get a couple of their smaller rooms in the Community Center back in early October, when town courts that have been holding sessions at the Community Center move to the Brookside History Center in Ballston Spa. The cards room and crafts room will then become available, but not the large, open meeting room that has been separated into work areas for the different town offices – the part of the building seniors say they really want to have back.
Change in that situation is probably still months away, Zlotnick acknowledged.
The Town Board is currently reviewing an engineers’ estimate of what it would take to get the Town Hall roof repaired and the mold in the walls remediated. It would require competitive bidding, with the repair cost estimated anywhere between $500,000 and $1 million.
“We have to make sure we know what we’re dealing with,” Zlotnick said.
The Town Hall was evacuated after an independent inspection found significant mold growth due to water damage, though no evidence of potentially toxic black mold. The Highway Department offices, as well as the Town Court and town administrative offices, were affected.
The town’s contract with the seniors allows the town to take back the building in the event of a “civil emergency.” Some seniors contend, however, that the situation at the Town Hall wasn’t bad enough to justify an emergency declaration.
Zlotnick said the town hopes to be able to return the building to the seniors before the repair work is finished. “I’m hoping to get out of here and find something the town can use,” he said. “We are always exploring options.”
Councilwoman Barbara Kerr, the Town Board’s liaison to the seniors, was out on the front lawn with the seniors. “Yes, I think they deserve a place,” she said.
Ballston Area Senior Citizens President Linda Elmer said the seniors have also looked without success for other places to hold meetings. “We’ve looked, and there’s nothing handicapped-accessible, or big enough, or available,” she said. “They’re very slow making a decision. It’s been since March, and they still don’t have a plan.”
Elmer said the Community Center is the best possible site for seniors, because it is within walking distance of three different subsidized senior housing projects. Club meetings draw as many as 80 to 100 people, she said, with many of them come from the senior complexes.
“The most important part is the getting together. Getting together is extremely important,” said senior citizen Pete Petrillose of Burnt Hills.
Reach staff writer Stephen Williams at 518-395-3086, [email protected], or @gazettesteve on Twitter.
Correction 9/10 12:18 PM: An earlier version of this story misspelled the last name of Ballston Area Senior Citizens President Linda Elmer. Her last name is Elmer, not Eller.