Seniors, city moving new center forward

Preliminary architectural drawings show a new two-story Senior Community Center on the site of the current facility on Brien Drive. Latest designs include street-level parking for up to 46 vehicles and a primary entrance from Bjune Drive to the north. - Courtesy ARC Architects
Preliminary architectural drawings show a new two-story Senior Community Center on the site of the current facility on Brien Drive. Latest designs include street-level parking for up to 46 vehicles and a primary entrance from Bjune Drive to the north.
— image credit: Courtesy ARC Architects

Mayor, council express optimism that funding will be restored to the budget.

The proposed Senior Center expansion may have been the least controversial item in the city’s Capital Improvement Project list.

So it was a shock for the center’s directors and City Council members alike when it was left out of the mayor’s preliminary 2008 budget entirely.

But a renewed conversation between city officials, the City Council and the Senior Center has bred new hope that the expansion plans can be built back into the budget.

Center president Tom Kilbane said he has been “cautiously optimistic” about the project since meeting with the mayor and several council members earlier this month.

“We made an effort to really work something out to get this back in the plans,” Kilbane said. “We left it on a positive note.”

It was a conversation that should have started sooner, Mayor Darlene Kordonowy said.

“The shortest answer as to why I chose not to include it in the budget was because it needed more discussion,” the mayor said.

Kordonowy supports the project and said she will budget enough money to continue its development in 2008, but she wants to see a clear plan for funding the construction, as well as a concrete start date, before she makes a long-term commitment.

“I’ve intended to raise these issues with the council and ask, ‘Can we do something to continue the momentum the senior center has built?’” Kordonowy said.

The most recent Senior Center plan, drafted by ARC Architects of Seattle, calls for $738,000 to be spent over the next three years – including $265,000 in 2008 – to finish architectural drawings, bid out contracts and obtain building permits, with the goal of breaking ground in 2010 or 2011.

The cost of the entire project, from the first sketch to the finished building, is estimated at $8.116 million.

The city would not be expected to foot the whole bill.

Kilbane said the center is planning a fund drive to pay a portion of the costs and will hire a fundraising coordinator to lead the effort if a qualified volunteer can’t be found.

It has also been suggested that the expansion be on the ballot for council bonds in 2008.

Councilman Chris Snow feels the project would be an ideal one to take to voters, pointing out that seniors are an increasingly powerful demographic on the island.

“I’ve heard a lot of people touting the soccer field resurfacing as a top priority,” Snow said. “I don’t mean to say that 2,000 young people aren’t important, but 4,400 seniors and rising is a significant part of the population, and they vote.”

Kordonowy believes the public will be much more willing to support the expansion if there is a practical funding plan and a construction deadline.

“The Senior Center needs to take the lead on this,” she said.

Even if the funding picture is hazy, at least the design of the proposed building has come into sharper focus.

After numerous discussions, surveys and open houses held since January, ARC Architects compiled a rough layout for a new building that will meet the needs of the community and fit the city’s Comprehensive Plan and Waterfront Park Master Plan.

A feasability study submitted by the center’s architects in August recommended a two-story building with above- ground parking and a primary entrance on the north side with access from Bjune Drive.

The ground floor would be lowered from its current level to reduce the height of the building and give it an easier entry from Brien Drive.

The plan listed several street-level parking options ranging from 26 to 42 spaces, up from the current 16, and considered the removal of three trees.

Central to the interior layout would be a large conference room that could be reconfigured to serve as a dining room, dance floor or theater.

Smaller rooms would likely include a health suite for exams and massage, a billiards room, arts and crafts room, computer room and a travel office. Existing services like the thrift store and cafe would be housed in upgraded facilities.

Several smaller rooms would be dividable for classes or meetings.

“The main thing is to have a flexible space that can allow flexible programming,” BISCC Director Jane Allan said.

The current center leaves little wiggle room. Allan and her two part-time employees do their best to juggle dozens of classes, guest speakers and discussions among cramped spaces connected by disjointed hallways.

The center has been adding 15 members a month on average while continually expanding its program list.

Its October calendar lists more than 35 different activities, led almost exclusively by volunteers.

“It’s amazing what they do with what they have,” Kilbane said.

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