Derby senior center committee ends first meeting after argument

Derby City Hall, in Derby, Conn. July 21, 2022.

Derby City Hall, in Derby, Conn. July 21, 2022.

Ned Gerard / Hearst Connecticut Media

DERBY —  The city's search for a new senior center location is once again off to a rocky start.

Brian Coppolo, the chair of the Senior Center Search Committee, was unanimously reelected to his position at the committee's first meeting last week.

But the meeting ended shortly after it began when members argued with Coppolo over the city not being willing to merge with Ansonia, months after the Board of Aldermen and Alderwomen rejected the merger proposal.

Committee member Dot Tynan criticized the city, saying Derby, by rejecting a plan to merge with Ansonia, was telling senior residents the city didn't care for them.

"We voted the senior center down. OK, done. Finished," Tynan said.

Coppolo ended the meeting soon after.

"I'd like to end this meeting, because I think we're getting off on a tangent," Coppolo said.

Despite still being upset over the city's rejection of the Ansonia proposal, Tynan also asked about a $300,000 grant the city was seeking from the Naugatuck Valley Council of Governments to merge with Ansonia. Elderly Commission member Jennifer Desroches, who was at the meeting, said there was no update on that request. 

Faced with no viable path to merge with Ansonia for the time being, the committee weighed improving the current senior center, which Tynan said wasn't suited for activities.

"We have to wait for the people to finish eating from the lunches that are being brought in from TEAM. Or we're waiting for people who are exercising to be done so that tables can be moved, so we could play bingo," she said. "Everything centers in that one room."

Derby's aldermen and alderwomen rejected merging with Ansonia back in June, but Ansonia and Derby's mayors have since applied for a state grant to receive funding for construction. The money, Ansonia Economic Development Director Sheila O'Malley said in August, should have helped alleviate Derby's concerns with costs.

But there has been no update so far on the grant according to Ansonia Corporate Counsel John Marini.

While the grant is still to be determined, Derby is left with searching for any available space within the city.  According to Tynan, Derby's options are less than ideal.

A bird sanctuary, located on property off Sodom Lane donated to the city by the estate of Frank Onopiak, was listed as a potential location, but there's a problem.

"He gave it to the city. But it was only to be used like a bird sanctuary," Tynan said. "Nothing was ever to be built on there. And no one was ever supposed to live there or anything like that."

While Derby struggles with even finding a suitable location, Ansonia has since began searching for a senior center director. Ansonia's center shares space with the new police station on 65 Main St. It is expected to open on Dec. 23.

Despite the meeting being less than harmonious, Desroches said it actually went better than she originally feared. The committee is expected to meet again in December.

"I didn't expect it was going go really smooth," she said. "But I thought it was going to be a lot worse. I thought they were going to do a little more mudslinging than they did."