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Senior center seeks 10-year deal with county

News Photo by Steve Schulwitz Linda Smith, left, Jane Kraft, center, and Ruth Butcher work together on a jigsaw puzzle while at the Alpena Senior Citizens Center on Wednesday. The senior center is trying to get its lease with Alpena County extended by 10 years so it can pursue grants that would help to expand the facility. The center offers senior programming, recreational activities, meals and events for senior in the county.

ALPENA — The Alpena County Board of Commissioners’ Finance Committee voted to recommend the full board approve a 10-year lease extension for the Alpena Senior Citizens Center.

The current lease agreement has three years left, but a longer lease was requested by the Senior Citizen Council so it can pursue grant funding to help pay for needed expansion and improvement projects at the center on River Street.

The full board is expected to vote on the issue during its regular meeting at 1 p.m. Tuesday.

Officials tried to find a new location for the senior center because a larger facility is needed to meet demand for its services, Council President Bill Forbush told the Finance Committee. Officials looked at several properties, including the former East Campus, which was recently purchased by the Boys and Girls Club, the activity center at St. John’s Catholic Church, and the old Sunset School.

“The bottom line is we can’t afford any of them,” Forbush said. “That is just not going to happen. But we do need to do something to allow more seniors to fit into the building to take advantage of the programs, recreations, meals, and other services. It will also help us to meet the future needs of the increasing population.”

Although there isn’t a design plan made yet, Forbush said he believes the building would be expanded toward the river, and a touch into the parking lot.

Currently, the senior center pays $1 a month to rent the building, which is owned by the county, but at least one commissioner wondered if the county should seek an increase because of the county’s projected nearly $1 million budget deficit. Commissioner Marty Thomson said he appreciates everything the senior center does, but added that all revenue options need to be considered.

He said the market rate for a property such as the senior center could bring in more than $7,000 a month and possibly the senior center could pay more than it currently does.

“I understand the challenges you have, but, unfortunately, sitting in this seat, we have challenges too,” Thomson said. “I think most of the people in this room know about our budget issues and what we’re facing. With the things we are facing, I don’t think it would be prudent of us to extend the lease for 10 more years at the current price with no income coming back to the county. I think we need to sit down and talk about what the options are for rent and maybe the sale of the building to the seniors. I’m open to ideas.”

Forbush said the senior center can’t afford to purchase the current building or pay a high rent.

“I just don’t see a tremendous increase in revenue to the program, and we already run on a pretty tight bottom line, just like everyone else does,” he said. “I certainly understand what you are saying, but I’m not sure what else we can really do.”

Forbush said there are opportunities for grant funding to help pay a bulk of the cost of the renovation, but foundations want long-term assurances that the center will remain in one location for a significant period. He said everyone is happy at the current center and, when the new improvements are made, the seniors intend to call the River Street property home for many years.

“We aren’t going anywhere, and want to be able to continue what we do, but open it up for more people and be able to do more things at once,” Forbush said. “We just need a little help.”

Steve Schulwitz can be reached at 989-358-5689 at sschulwitz@thealpenanews.com. Follow him on Twitter @ss_alpenanews.com.

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