There’s no need for the city of Stephenville to build a new facility for senior citizen activities, according to a letter dated Monday and sent to city council members by a group of residents who often attend activities at the Senior Citizen Center.
Instead, for $200,000 to $300,000, the existing center for the elderly - even with its well-documented pitfalls - can be renovated and improved to the liking of those who frequent it, the group contends.
Crafted by Ron Wall and signed by 33 others who enjoy playing cards, dominoes and other activities at the center, the letter makes it clear the group doesn’t like the idea of moving senior citizen activities from the existing 6,500-square-foot building and into a “community center.”
The council recently hired an architect - Brinkley Sargent & Associates - to look into the possibility of designing a new facility that would include a recreational hall, senior citizen center and swimming pool.
But Wall said such a facility is not in the best interest of senior citizens.
“We’re a lot better off right here,” Wall said, referring to an existing center that he acknowledges needs a significant amount of work.
Wall said he doesn’t believe the city will set aside 6,500 square feet if it constructs and includes senior citizen activities in a new community facility.
He said he isn’t against - and many other senior citizens aren’t against - a new facility that includes a recreational hall and swimming pool.
“Nobody’s saying that,” Wall said. “Just don’t stick us off in some corner of a new building.”
Wall said the people who signed off on his letter spend more than four hours each day at the center and take part in “virtually all its activities.”
Two people, Wall said, did not sign in support of the letter - one because “it did not speak to the fire issue strongly” and the other because “it did not include specifics on what they felt should be done in remodeling.”
Some who frequent the center consider it to be a fire trap. Wall said he believed the city, if it were to upgrade the existing facility, could easily address fire safety issues.
“It was also presented to the folks who only dance and exercise four-and-one-half hours weekly,” Wall said, and “they want a new building with a very nice dance/exercise floor.”
According to the letter, upgrading the Senior Citizen Center is in the “best thing for the city to do” because financially “it saves ‘millions’ in construction costs.”
“The center could be redone for $200,000 to $300,000, which I understand from one council member, the city could easily pay for out of existing reserves,” Wall said.
The letters urges the council to:
Put a decent exercise and dance floor in the existing center.
The existing floor has “broken tiles and an unlevel surface,” Wall said.
Upgrade the kitchen, which is “virtually unusable.”
“Try cooking in it for the 40 people who regularly have lunch on Wednesdays or the 100-plus people who come on a special event,” Wall said. “The utensils, pots, pans, bowls, are mostly a bunch of hand-me-down junk that people donated to the center.
“There is one oven that doesn’t heat properly and virtually no cooking appliances. It is so frustrating that often when I cook, I do much of it in my own kitchen and transport it to the center.”
Heat and cool the center’s offices.
“The offices are small and have no air conditioning,” Wall said. “It gets very hot in them and then disagreements arise between staff and the ‘seniors.’ The thermostat must be set in the 60s to get cool air in the offices. Many of the seniors require 72-plus degrees to be comfortable.”
Use the savings from remodeling to put the assistant manager full-time and at a reasonable wage. Keep the center open from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Friday. It currently is open 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 8 a.m.-noon on Friday. Move all able-bodied people who use the center away from the center and allow less able-bodied people to park closer to the center.
Wall, who is 60, said most of those who attend the center’s activities are in their 70s, several are in their 80s, and some are more than 90 years old. They include college professors, school superintendents, avionics experts, business owners and people from “all walks of life,” Wall said.
“Virtually all (are) there to fill social, not economic needs,” Wall said. “They come for the camaraderie, the mental and physical exercise, and like many who go to work each day, it’s pretty boring sitting around all day everyday.”
Wall said the senior citizens of “this community are “those who have served this community in various ways, for their entire life.”
“They are people who served this country in wars that most all of you can only read about,” Wall said. “They are people who have paid their dues and deserve a better facility than they currently have to exercise, play and learn. As one astute individual said on his first visit to the center, “This place is not in very good condition.”
“Duh!” Wall said.
Mayor Rusty Jergins has said Brinkley & Sargent will take comments from the public, such as those presented by Wall and his friends at the senior citizen center, into consideration when recommendations are made.
Brinkley & Sargent is expected to come back with recommendations within the next three months.
DOUG MYERS is Managing Editor of the Empire-Tribune. He can be reached at email@example.com or (254) 965-3124, ext. 229.