Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Senior Center Questions Still Unanswered

Funding for a new senior center is in place, City Council President Ray Blanco confirmed Monday, but not in the format the council demanded last year.

In a council discussion Monday (Feb. 13, 2006), Blanco said four separate bonds the council authorized for the senior center, road repair, pools and other needs were never issued. Instead, the city issued $11 million in notes that will have to be re-financed in November and that lumped together projects that the governing body wanted to be distinct.

The question of paying for a new center arose last Tuesday when Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs stunned seniors by saying the city never bonded for the $4.3 million cost. Robinson-Briggs said Monday she learned the day after her visit with the seniors that notes had been issued instead.

Financial terminology aside, the question of where the center will be and in what form will be answered within 30 days, Robinson-Briggs told the council Monday. In her visit to the present senior center last Tuesday, she suggested that the Armory at Leland Avenue and East Seventh Street might be a good choice.

But Senior Center President Charles Nelson said Monday the seniors had rejected that notion nearly a decade ago, when it was raised by Assemblyman Jerry Green. Green is again trying to secure the building for a city use and is working with new state Treasury Department staff to get a better deal than the $1 million asking price announced last year.

Seniors have insisted on a new building downtown, and former Mayor Albert T. McWilliams held a ground-breaking in May 2005 at a site on East Front Street near the current leased space.

Nelson invoked the memory of former Councilwoman Helen Miller in his plea for a speedy resolution to the senior center dilemma. Miller, a staunch advocate for a new senior center, died Thursday (Feb. 9, 2006).

“Don’t let me be like Helen Miller and leave here before it happens,” Nelson pleaded with the council.

Senior Center Director Sharron Brown said the seniors will talk about the situation at a membership meeting Tuesday (Feb. 14, 2006) at 10:30 a.m. in the center at 305 East Front Street.

The issues will also be discussed at a building committee meeting at the center on Feb. 24.

Nelson reminded the council that early on, the price for a new center was set at $1.7 million. He questioned how it got to $4.3 million and also traced the history of the project that included one chapter where former basketball star Jayson Williams promised to build the new center half a block away from the present leased space. At each interval, Nelson said, the plans stalled.

“Now we’re at the bottom,” he said, noting the seniors were told a new architect had to be hired.

“My people are very upset,” Nelson said, claiming the new center has been a “political football” since the administration of former Mayor Mark Fury, who took office in 1994.

Officials assured Nelson that they are still backing the seniors‘ wishes for a new center.

“We are very committed to make sure this happens,“ Councilwoman Linda Carter said Monday.

“The building will be built,” Blanco said.

--Bernice Paglia

KEYWORDS: senior center


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