Council pauses on senior center

The City Council continued its hot-and-cold debate over a new facility for the Bainbridge Island Senior Center Wednesday, deciding to pause the process so more public outreach can be performed.

After last week’s study session concerning the project, the majority of the council appeared ready to accept a contract for 30 percent design with Seattle-based ARC Architects. But after receiving a string of emails, letters and comments criticizing the finances and scope surrounding the senior center, the council unanimously decided to send the project back to the study session level, to be brought in front of the council again before March 31.

The council previously tabled discussion on the senior center when it came up for action in December.

Citizens expressed alarm over the possibility of committing funding to the project at a time when the city is facing significant financial difficulty.

According to the Capital Facilities Plan, the $9 million project, to be constructed in 2012-13, will be paid for with $3 million in a voter-approved bond, $3 million from potential grants and stimulus money, and $3 million to come from “donations.”

The 2007 feasibility study projected the city contributing that final $3 million, but given its financial situation, that’s not going to happen, said Mayor Bob Scales.

“I don’t believe that within the next decade the city is going to have $3 million to contribute to the senior center,” he said.

Jane Allen, program coordinator for the senior center, said the organization’s board has already begun researching fundraising methods.

The contract, for approximately $178,000, was to be paid for with a $250,000 councilmanic bond passed in 2008, for the purpose of senior center design.

Prior to the decision, members of the senior center community were split on the possibility of a slight delay on the project.

Tom Kilbane, former board president of the center, said confusion about the project exists on the part of the council and the public.

“Take a breather, step back and put this on hold until sometime when you can get your arms around it better,” he said at last week’s study session.

Don Fisher, current president of the center, said money is already available to begin work on the project. He added that a down economy should not prevent the city from renovating one of the town’s most important structures.

“Our economy is going to recover, and we’re going to need a senior center and community center,” he said.

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