Questionnaire that shows support for services in one building is discussed as city weighs facility’s future
The vast majority of people responding to a survey intended to gauge the needs of the Port Washington Senior Center said that having one building dedicated to senior services is important — so important that 61% said they would be less likely to participate in programs if they were spread out to other facilities in the area.
Those were among the survey findings discussed Tuesday during a meeting of the Senior Center’s Ad Hoc Strategic Planning Committee.
The results of the survey, conducted by MSA Professional Services, will be used by the city to determine the future of the center. City officials do not plan to renew the lease for the current center at 403 W. Foster St., which runs through December 2016 and could be extended six months beyond that.
Roughly 711 people completed the survey, and the results were predictably skewed toward people 55 and older, said Andrew Bremer, a planner with MSA Professional Services.
In addition to simply answering the survey questions, Bremer noted, respondents provided more than 70 pages of comments about the center, its functions and needs.
The major complaints listed about the current senior center building are the lack of parking and accessibility within the building, Bremer said.
When asked to describe their ideal center, the majority of survey respondents said they wanted to see a community center with intergenerational interaction and activities, he said.
Not only did respondents rate having a central dedicated senior center as important, Bremer said, many rated the services as good or excellent.
More than 57% said they would support an increase in the current membership fees to offset a portion of the cost of operating and renting a senior center, Bremer said.
Currently, the center charges $17 per person or $22 per couple annually for Port residents to join the center. Non-residents pay $37 and $64, respectively.
Most of those responding said they take part in services provided at places outside the senior center, most notably at the YMCA, other senior centers, library and through the parks and recreation program.
Respondents were almost evenly split when asked if they would support increasing property taxes to offset the cost of building a new senior center.
The idea of funding a community center received a little more support.
When asked how much they might be willing to contribute to a fundraiser for a new center, more than half those responding said they would contribute between $1 and $100.
Of the respondents who don’t use the senior center, most said they are not old enough, are working full-time or just don’t have the time, he said. A few, however, said they didn’t know there was a center, Bremer said.
Senior Center director Catherine Kiener said last year, an average of 62 people used the center every day. There were more than 18,000 visits last year, she added.
Those attending the meeting had a variety of suggestions for a new center, including the vacant EVS auto dealership on South Spring Street and the former office buildings at Simplicity Manufacturing on North Spring Street, as well as land on the Harbor Campus site and property owned by the Port Washington-Saukville School District.
Although the city has been looking into the idea of holding senior center activities at a variety of existing buildings, that’s not an option survey respondents or those at the meeting favored.
“I think having a building provides a safe place for older people,” said Edie Webb, a member of the ad hoc committee and the city’s commission on aging.
One woman noted that when activities are held in a number of places, seniors need to travel between them, something that can be costly and difficult for older adults.
“If you’re living on a couple hundred dollars of disposable income a month, that’s hard,” she said.
It would also increase the cost of staffing, said Sue Bruner, a member of the city’s Commission on Aging.
Providing programs at different places also makes it more difficult for people to keep track of activities and makes those services less visible, another woman said.
John Sigwart, a member of the ad hoc committee, said the idea of holding activities at the Feith Family Ozaukee YMCA in Saukville has been discussed, but many people have told them they feel that’s too far away.
Tom Didier, a member of the YMCA Board, said that when the Feith Family center was built, there were plans to expand and create a senior center there.
Didier, a real estate agent, also noted that building a new center on some of the sites suggested is likely cost prohibitive.
“The price on the (EVS) building is well over $1 million,” he said. “To me, that sounds like a crazy idea.”
Sigwart said he prefers a community center to just a senior center, saying it would allow for intergenerational activities that are important to people of all ages.
“That’s a very large project,” Sigwart said. “If we want to do that as a community center, we have to start it.”
The new center should incorporate unique facilities to draw people to it, one man said, citing a Sun City, Ariz., center that has a woodworking shop and model railroad club.
This would work doubly well if the city builds a community center, he said, since the old and young can teach each other.
“What we really need to think about is what our community is going to look like in 20 years,” one woman said. “What are our services going to look like? What are the needs of our seniors going to be?”
MSA will now work to complete its report, which will be reviewed by the committee before being forwarded to the Common Council for consideration.