Council told by volunteer that longtime facility is critical to older adults who count on it for camaraderie, meals
A volunteer at the Port Washington Senior Center asked aldermen Tuesday to reassure seniors that the facility will not close its doors as the city looks for alternative sites for the center.
The request by Terri Wysocki came the same night aldermen met in closed session to discuss negotiations for the purchase of the Aurora Medical Center at 1777 W. Grand Ave. for use as a senior center.
Wysocki told aldermen that a recent Ozaukee Press story that outlined the fact the city has only committeed to leasing the center on Foster Street until next July and plans for a new facility may take longer to come to fruition caused a strong reaction.
“There was a sense of panic, of ‘What are we going to do? Where are we going to go?’” she said. “We really need some answers. We need to calm the fears of seniors.
“I’m talking about something that involves 25% of our population.”
The senior center is a vital lifeline for many older adults, Wysocki said, noting many are single and otherwise isolated.
“Seniors need to be involved in our community. Staying home alone is not an option,” she said.
While some people may scoff at the activities at the center, calling them games, they provide a valuable outlet, Wysocki added.
“Those games keep our minds sharp,” she said. “They give us the opportunity to talk to people. Many of these people have just opened up.”
The meal site, she added, provides the only meal some seniors on a fixed income get each day. They can’t afford other activities or membership in facilities such as the YMCA.
“Most of us have been taxpayers for decades,” she said.
And when they hear of the city spending millions for other projects, Wysocki said, they feel “like a forgotten generation.”
Continuing to lease the current senior center is a stopgap, but shouldn’t be considered a long-term solution, she added.
“The current building is not appropriate,” she said, noting its two bathrooms aren’t enough to accommodate a crowd, the ramp is too steep and parking in winter is “horrendous.”
City Administrator Mark Grams said Tuesday that officials met last week with a representative of Aurora to get information to start negotiations.
But, he said, officials are waiting to get more facts before formal negotiations begin.
“They’ve given us general ideas, but we need to know more,” Grams said. “We need to get more facts.”
Aurora officials have said they would need to expand their other Port clinic before they vacate the 1777 Grand Ave. facility, but Grams said the city hasn’t been given a timeline or other information about any potential move.
It will take time to create a new senior center, he acknowledged.
The city’s Finance and License Committee met Tuesday to work on the 2017 budget, and Grams said it includes money to lease the current center only through mid-2017.
However, he said, he expects officials will eventually use contingency funds to continue the lease.
“I don’t think we’re going to throw them out on the street,” he said of the seniors, adding that officials want to see how things progress.
The proposed budget also includes $15,000 for the city’s share of a study that will look at the feasibility of converting the Aurora Medical Clinic into a senior center, Grams said.
The city received a $20,000 matching community development block grant for the study earlier this year, and is expected to contribute $5,000 of in-kind work toward it, Grams said.
The city is working on a request for proposals intended to find a firm to conduct the study, he added.