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Why spend $9 million on a center for old people who can't afford to live in Keene?, by John McGauley

I just got hearing aids two weeks ago.

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.

I’m hearing things that I didn’t at first recognize because I’ve forgotten that they made noise. Falling leaves, the sound of rain, wind, even my breathing. Flushing a toilet sounds like a busted water main. I heard a bad guy walking up behind me, the sounds of silence, and even bursts of radio waves coming from deep space. A crow, or maybe it was a raven, spoke to me; “nevermore,” it said. I hear dead people, too. I’m all ears. I want to revisit Niagara Falls, ride the El in Chicago again, listen to Dire Straits and Lefty Frizzell. Maybe I’ll audit a class at Keene State, or sit outside Cumberland Farms and listen to the sound of beer cans opening.

I might go to The Colonial Theatre and now understand those obscure British films about morose subjects.

Three weeks ago, pre-hearing aids, I listened to a brief conversation at a restaurant about a couple planning a trip to Botswana. Curious, I thought, until my wife told me they were talking about the Kavanaugh nomination.

That was the old me.

It’s kind of depressing to think that you’ve based most of your life on the fact that you’ve really not heard — or properly understood, or grossly misinterpreted — virtually everything people have said to you for decades. Of course, that bolluxed-up worldview has come in very handy in writing this column and hosting a talk-radio show.

Segue alert

But once I put the hearing aids in, I also heard something that I really didn’t like: that there are plans afoot to “co-locate” the Keene Senior Center and Keene Recreation Center at the rec center’s facility on Washington Street.

For a paltry $9.2 million, that is.

Does Keene have some sort of spending disease for which it needs to undergo shock therapy?

I’ll be blunt. Kill this idea right now, cut its head off like a zombie on “The Walking Dead.”

Why? Because we’re broke. We haven’t brought in a sizeable company to town in more than a decade, maybe two, our existing large employers are shriveling, and our real estate taxes can be counted among the top 10 in the nation.

Here’s how these things happen in Keene, and have for as long as I can recall. First, someone comes up with an idea. For the sake of this argument, let’s say it’s a zipline that someone says will really help our young kids find something to do with their time. Or it could be anything, like pedestrian bridges across highways, or an ice-skating rink, or the finest-quality granite curbing.

The idea sounds okay in the beginning, and whoever is lobbying for it starts a campaign to drum up some support. Then a councilman or councilwoman talks about it, the newspaper does a couple of stories about it. Then one of the city committees starts to chew on it. Then — and this is a crucial stage — a consultant is hired for a feasibility study. There’s always the feasibility study, and in this case one that costs $35,890, with a check made out to Bargmann Hendrie + Archetype Inc. of Boston. Okay, so the nonprofit senior center paid for $10,000 of that, but the city taxpayers are stuck with the rest of the bill.

Why is it that the City of Keene hires more consultants for these types of things than a lonely guy gets hookers in Amsterdam’s Red Light District?

Then, slowly, inexorably, the thing snakes its way through the system until the public has either forgotten about it or is worn down being told about it.

And then the price-tag is announced. Well, not announced, exactly, but mumbled.

If this is such a good idea, why can’t the Keene Senior Center raise private money to do the job? You know why? Because they can’t and figure they can bamboozle the taxpayers into paying the freight. And many of the people who use the senior center don’t even live in Keene.

But what about all those old people? You can’t screw them out of this opportunity, right? Well, there are scores of things around town for old people, and besides, if I’m correct, just about everybody who runs for office says their number one priority — once they’re elected — is to do everything possible to make Keene attractive to young people. So, naturally, spending $9.2 million on a new center with shuffleboard courts should really drive more millennials to town.

Now, usually what happens in this process is a fog-making machine is wheeled in and there’s all sorts of talk about how they’ll pay for these projects, lots of verbiage about USDA grants, tax credits, community development block grants. This is what I call the “Pennies from Heaven” talk. Buried in the whole thing like a bomb are city bonds.

Why doesn’t anyone in this city shout this from the rooftops, that when you’re broke, you don’t spend? If our new city manager wants to make her bones here, she should put a stop to this kind of stuff.

By the way, too, the “feasibility study” on this thing moves on to the City Council’s municipal services, facilities and infrastructure committee, which meets Wednesday at 6 p.m. on the second floor of City Hall. Make sure to attend and hear about all the swell stuff your tax dollars will be supporting. Bring your walkers.

How can we deny all these cuddly old people this new center?

Oh, and by the way, old people can’t live in Keene any longer, they can’t afford the taxes.

Author and local radio talk show host John McGauley writes from Keene. He can be reached at mcgauleyink

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