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May 1, 2013
Late glitches hold up Senior Activity Center kitchen work
The Senior Activity Center kitchen in the town medical building is still not ready to serve weekly lunches for the 20 or so members of the Silver Circle senior lunch program and their aides. It may be several more weeks, and another $15,000 or so in expenses, before it can be returned to service after a hiatus of more than two years.
With renovations and a new septic and well system in place, the kitchen project ran into new problems this spring. Its water tested positive for coliform bacteria and e-coli and the county determined that a hood and proper ventilation system had to be installed over the stove.
The water problem was merely an anomaly that might have been as simple as a bug falling into piping when the new well was being set up, Public Works Commissioner Jay Card Jr. said. The system has been flushed out and the water now is safe to drink, according to Mr. Card, Suffolk County Department of Health officials and John Hallman of the town’s Water Advisory Committee.
As for the stove hood, that’s not so simple. Because of the stove’s location, a hood would be too near wooden beams in the kitchen walls, creating a fire hazard. So now the stove, newly installed as part of this spring’s renovation work, must be moved. That also means moving existing cabinets and a microwave oven, Mr. Card said, in order to install the hood and its ventilation system. The system also will take extensive work because the Department of Health requires that it go through the building’s roof.
He hopes to begin the work this month and have the kitchen operable in a matter of weeks.
Another glitch is that the new refrigerator purchased to meet health department standards for the senior lunches can be used only for that purpose. If staff members bring their own lunches or anyone brings any perishable food to the center for any purpose, it would have to be put in a separate refrigerator.
The senior kitchen saga, and its latest twists, have been “a nightmare,” Town Councilwoman Chris Lewis recently said.
It all started in early 2010 with “a random visit of someone going to the wrong place,” Ms. Lewis said. A Suffolk County Department of Health Services inspector, sent to check the kitchen at the Presbyterian Church — where the town’s Dinner Bell program serves lunches to seniors on Mondays and Fridays — got confused and went instead to the Senior Activity Center, in the medical building further south on Route 114.
It happened to be a Wednesday, the one day each week that the Shelter Island Senior Citizens Association has its Silver Circle weekly luncheons for a small group of older seniors and their aides.
“Nobody thought we were doing anything wrong,” said Office of Senior Services Coordinator Henrietta Roberts. Besides a Wednesday luncheon, she and her staff offer the seniors a number of activities during the week: movies, hobbies, planning outings or just enjoying conversation with one another.
But the county has a lot of rules about kitchens in which hot lunches are prepared. That kitchen — which predates the Senior Activity Center’s arrival 2002 by more than a decade, when the space was occupied by a Red Cross chapter office — didn’t meet them.
The initial violations including failure to have proper ventilation, refrigeration and grease trap systems or dish-washing temperatures hot enough to kill bacteria. The county also required changes to the septic system and the well.
COST ESTIMATES VARIED
The estimated price tag was initially $75,000, which prompted Ms. Lewis to suggest that maybe the town couldn’t afford to continue the Silver Circle lunch program. While the Town Board worked to figure out where to get the money, public health sanitarian Gina Scammon wrote the town allowing it to prepare packaged meals at the Presbyterian Church to be served on paper plates at the Senior Activity Center on Wednesdays.
The town earmarked a backlog of Housing and Urban Development federal grant money amounting to $19,558 for the project with another $11,635 expected in 2012. There also was a grant of about $8,000 that came from the Shelter Island Senior Citizens Foundation and about $7,000 from the Lions Club. With estimated costs lower than originally thought, the town decided to go ahead with the work.
It was slow going. In 2011, engineer Matt Sherman produced a plan and, once again, there was hope that the kitchen would be brought up to code soon. But by October 2011, Mr. Sherman had relocated to St. Croix. At a Town Board meeting later, Public Works Commissioner Mark Ketcham publicly blamed Mr. Sherman’s plans for delays getting started but, a week later, publicly apologized, acknowledging that the plans had been drawn to his own specifications.
The town brought in a new engineer, John Condon of Mattituck, who tweaked the plans to enlarge the existing septic system instead of replacing it and proposed a different location for the well to accommodate requirements for distance that had to be maintained between the well and septic system.
A new refrigerator that had been purchased along with other parts needed for the project were ready to be installed, but because plans had been modified by Mr. Condon, the town needed new approvals from the Suffolk County Department of Health Services. It was in February 2012 that county Health Department spokeswoman Grace McGovern gave the word that the revised plans had been approved and work could progress.
Last spring, new septic lines required tearing out the parking lot and tearing up some of the flooring in the center to accommodate new pipes. Town workers jack-hammered the floor apart to enable a plumber to install a new kitchen waste line and a connection to the upstairs Medical Center.
Shelter Island Sand and Gravel installed the upgraded septic system in the lower parking lot. A new well had to be dug to meet the county’s requirement that it be 200 feet from the septic system.
Of all the hurdles the town has climbed in order to reopen the kitchen, Mr. Card said this week what bothered him most was that the original well had been providing good clean water.
By mid June, after more than a two-year closure of the kitchen, it was expected the kitchen would reopen
But here it is October and the kitchen isn’t yet operable.
Ms. Roberts rolls her eyes when you ask about the kitchen. While all other activities at the center proceed uninterrupted, she admitted she’s tired of having to focus any attention on the kitchen and hopes this time promises the project is done are real.
“We lost that home feel here,” Mr. Card said about the newly designed kitchen. “It turned into an industrial kitchen,” he said, shrugging.
It’s expected that money for the remaining changes could come from a Community Development Block Grant.
Nobody has added up all the costs from beginning to end yet, Mr. Card said. But he expects once the kitchen is operational again, it might serve other needs beyond those of the Wednesday senior lunch group. The Town Board’s interest in ending use of the Ambulance Corps headquarters for community meetings means such activities could well be moved to the Senior Activity Center, he said.
“We shall, too, get through this,” Mr. Card said. “It’s just one of those speed bumps in life.”
“Once you get involved with the Suffolk County Department of Health, the party is over,” Ms. Lewis said. “They control every inch of what you’re doing. It just sort of snowballed,” she said of the seeming never-ending project.