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Hempstead closing East Meadow Senior Center in dispute over rent

East Meadow Senior Center on Wednesday, Dec. 21,

East Meadow Senior Center on Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2016 in East Meadow. Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

The Town of Hempstead is closing the East Meadow Senior Center on Dec. 28 after financial disputes with the center’s landlord, a move that has upset some senior citizens who have been going there for years.

Seniors will now be bused to the Salisbury Senior Center in Westbury, about three miles away, according to town spokesman Mike Deery.

“Nobody wants to leave this place, everybody wants to stay,” said Rita Poehl, 89, of East Meadow, on Friday at the East Meadow center. “There’s nothing we can do about it.”

Hempstead Town and the center’s owner, the Mitchel Field Senior Citizens Redevelopment Co., entered into a 20-year lease agreement in 1996 where the town was allowed to use the building for free, a company spokesman said. During the 20-year period, the company spokesman said the town paid $10,000 for utility costs for four years.

The lease ended in July and after six months of negotiations, the two parties couldn’t settle on a rental price. Deery said the company was asking for $9,000 a month in rent, though the Mitchel Field spokesman cited the negotiations and wouldn’t give a figure.

The company spokesman said the town told them that “they are unable to enter into a new lease as they are without funds.”

Deery, however, said the town is always looking to cut spending. The town owns the Salisbury Senior Center property.

“It’s a matter of economics,” Deery said. “This is a dramatic cost increase.”

A town official said a previous owner of Mitchel Field, who has since died, agreed to the free rent.

The programs offered at both senior centers are virtually identical, Deery said. Seniors can take part in activities such as fitness and dancing classes, lectures, nutrition programs, and card and bingo games. The East Meadow Senior Center’s two employees will not lose their jobs; no other closures are planned for the town’s 14 other senior centers.

“We thought this was a good time to merge those two centers,” Deery said. “We are confident that the residents will still be well-served.”

Poehl, sitting with a few other senior citizens on Friday morning drinking coffee and eating chocolate and ginger snaps, said they were only informed of the closing last month. The seniors said more people used to come to the center, but now it’s only between 15 and 25 people a day.

East Meadow resident John Errico, 87, said they know the closure has to do with money, “but we don’t know who’s at fault.”

Florence Figuero, 84, uses a wheelchair and lives very close to the center. She likes coming to the East Meadow center because if she doesn’t feel well, she can be home quickly.

She does not plan to take the town’s bus to the Salisbury location and says the closure will leave her without anyone to talk to a few days a week.

“I don’t go anyplace else,” she said. “I have to come here.”

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