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Committee raises concerns on upcoming local senior center

WORTHINGTON -- The Nobles County Seniors Concerns Committee gathered Thursday morning at the American Reformed Church for a question-answer session with city representatives on the widely discussed city project - the new senior center. City representatives at the meeting were City Administrator Craig Clark, Director of Community / Economic Development Brad Chapulis, and city council member Mike Woll.

"It has been a long time since the city has been before a committee but it doesn't reflect that the city isn't moving forward with a plan," Chapulis said as he addressed the crowd.

Committee members were given a brief update on the project prior to having their questions addressed. The former Worthington Area YMCA building will be converted into a community center with a senior-focused space, Woll said.

The plan is to preserve the gymnasium, the racquet ball court and the basement, but reconstruct the rest of the original building and the existing pool area.

The senior-focused space Woll was referring to would be a 2,880-square-foot addition to the facility. It will include a kitchen for the senior dining program offices, and an auxiliary space. Also new to the facility will be 23 parking stalls.

The first question of the morning was whether the city had approached seniors to learn about the amenities they would prefer and if the city's plan was conveyed to seniors.

Woll answered that there were several committees, including seniors, which had met a few times -- some met at city hall and others at the current senior center location (Ace Hardware).

A common concern revolved around the selection of the "Y" instead of other buildings that appeared feasible.

"I don't think there's a senior here who wants to go into that YMCA building. The place leaks and they don't want to be in the basement. I think the seniors of this city earned a new senior center," a member of the committee said. "I don't think the city of Worthington is paying attention to what seniors want."

Woll said a major part of the building would be reconstructed and stressed that the only part being retained is the 1980 gym. The basement of the building, although being retained, will be remodeled and will have an elevator installed.

"It's a brand new building -- it will not be refurbished," he said. "To build a square footage like (the gym) would need a phenomenal amount of money."

Clark further explained that remodeling costs for possible, feasible buildings were higher than expected.

Some asked if the new center would have sufficient parking, to which Chapulis said that in addition to the 23 new stalls, there are eight parking spots in a site across from the former "Y" building.

The land is still owned by the YMCA but there are plans for the city to acquire it after environmental remediation has been completed.

Another option for parking will be street parking, he said.

Woll addressed the question of membership costs.

The current membership rate is $10 per year.

A preliminary membership figure that has been factored into the budget is $30 a year.

"If the new facility can accommodate a lot more things, that may be a reasonable number," he explained.

In terms of safety, seniors were reassured that keypad entry to the building would be required after hours and that the senior center would be staffed until closing.