“We first looked at doing some space needs analysis for a new senior center ten years ago,” said Bob Therres, the Public Service Manager for the city of Blaine.
It even made it to the ballot in 2016, when a bond referendum for a new senior center and community center lost by about two thousand votes. A new building wasn’t voted through with a tax increase at that time, and the issues in the facility remained.
“There are multiple issues, the age is one thing working against us, things like ADA compliance for bathrooms, overhangs are lacking coming in the doorway so the cold air comes in and people get rained on a lot more, logistically inside the building we have chairs stacked everywhere, we have very limited storage space here,” said Shelley Johnson of the Mary Ann Young Senior Center.
It’s an old building that is too small to meet the needs of the senior community.
“This building was originally built in 1982, there was an addition I think put on in 1987, so this is actually a building that was added on to a couple of times,” said Therres.
“Programs conflict with each other, we’ve got no privacy whatsoever for groups such as health insurance counseling, legal service, foot care, all those things that you would like to have private we just don’t have any rooms for that kind of thing to exist here in this building,” Johnson said.
On May 3, the city council held a public hearing, where they voted whether or not to use an existing funding source to pay for a new senior center.
“Capital Improvement Funds is basically funds that we have in the city already and what the council did is held a public hearing to use those funds to construct a new senior center,” Therres explained,
Shelley has been working at the Mary Ann Young Senior Center for more than 20 years, and could imagine what a yes vote would do for 20,000 seniors that visit the center annually.
“So I was kind of on pins and needles,” she said.
These funds are difficult to access. At least six out of the seven city council members have to vote in favor of the project, allowing up to $5.4 million to be spent on the center.
“Oh boy when I heard the news I was so excited I was literally jumping up and down,” Johnson said.
The capital improvement fund was started in the early 80s and has had reserve dollars go into it on a regular basis projects just like this. The fund has $10.8 million in it, and up to half of that is allowed to be used for a single project. The interest on the fund also provides dollars for parks and trails every year.
“These are funds that are already on hand so there will be no [new] tax dollars used to construct the facility, there’s no bond referendum or anything like that, they decided to use the funds they had on hand which could only be used for general community-wide improvements,” Therres said.
This decision is still young, and all the details haven’t been worked out yet. But, there will likely be a new senior center close to its current location that’s three times the current size in less than 2 years.
“Right now the original concept that we’re working on is this building will stay in Aquatore Park. We haven’t decided exactly where but it will stay in Aquatore Park. The idea is to build a new facility and then move everything over to the new facility so that we’re operating the whole time,” Therres said.
It was voted through with an amendment that clarified that while this building would be primarily used by seniors, it would also have space that could be used by the public.
“That means that when this building is not in use or the new facility is not in use by as a senior center some evenings or some weekends that there will be rooms available for the public to rent and to use for different meeting spaces and activities,” said Therres.
“Everyone is really exctied with just having a more modern building that works for us,” said Johnson.
Design work on the senior center will start this summer, construction most likely won’t start until 2019.