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Repairs of Golden Age Center a 'money pit,' supervisor says

Sat, Jul 29th 2017 07:00 am
Members of the Golden Age Club discussed the future of the Golden Age Center at the Nike Base Park during a lunchtime meeting Thursday. Town Supervisor Nathan McMurray also attended the meeting, which packed the GAC dining area. (Photo by Larry Austin)
Members of the Golden Age Club discussed the future of the Golden Age Center at the Nike Base Park during a lunchtime meeting Thursday. Town Supervisor Nathan McMurray also attended the meeting, which packed the GAC dining area. (Photo by Larry Austin)
By Larry Austin
Island Dispatch Editor
The ongoing analysis of whether the Town of Grand Island needs a new community center has brought to the forefront an unsolved problem: what to do about the aging Nike Base.
"I really want to take a hard look at the Golden Age Center," Councilman Chris Aronica said at a May 24 work session, when the Grand Island Town Board decided to do a feasibility study on a possible community center. He expressed his concern about costs of such a facility, but this week those who work in the Golden Age Center said a hard look at the 60-year-old structure is long overdue, and the greater cost to the town would come from trying to fix the building.
Golden Age Center Director Barbara Gannon, has been working there for 30 years and said she's been told it would be "cheaper to start anew" with a modern senior center, one with more room that would allow for more senior programming.
Gannon said the town engineering department has told her the town "cannot justify putting more money into this building."
"And I said I understand, because we're still going to have an inadequate building with not enough space, and I believe that the Town of Grand Island seniors deserve more," Gannon said.
The topic of what to do with the GAC was part of a lively discussion Thursday at a meeting of the Golden Age Club. Town Supervisor Nathan McMurray also visited the center to weigh in on the matter.
"We have to spend money. Either it's on fixing this or doing something else. And if we're spending money, we need to spend money smart," McMurray said.
McMurray noted a long list of work needed at the center, located in the Nike Base Park on Whitehaven Road, such as repairs to the roof and parking lot. He said the town just spent $15,000 to fix the sump pump this year. Increasing costs at the center is one reason McMurray has sought a new multi-purpose community center for the town, a campaign point when he ran for supervisor in 2015.
"I don't want to make some boondoggle, but this is becoming a money pit," McMurray said of the Golden Age Center.
He commented, "I'm not going to force the town to do anything, but I'm telling you we are in deep trouble with this place."
He said before meeting with the seniors in the Golden Age Club that, as the supervisor of the town, "I can't force you to do anything the size of this kind of project, but I'm trying to help you understand and make a smart decision, not just on emotion."
The town has engaged the consulting firm of Clark Patterson Lee, which is already doing the town's comprehensive plan, with conducting a feasibility study on a new community center. "We hired experts who have gone through this before that are going to walk us through the process," McMurray said.
Gannon and Golden Age Center Recreation Leader Jennifer Menter told the Dispatch Tuesday about a long list of problems with the building, including: a leaky roof, an aging boiler, asbestos tiles, and pipes that Gannon said are "totally inadequate" and back up.
"Sewage has come up into the kitchen," Gannon said.
The rest rooms are dark, especially for seniors with vision loss and depth perception problems. Gannon said the exterminator has told her the building can't be rid of bugs because the bugs live in the walls. There is no central air conditioning and ventilation in the building is poor.
According to the Island Dispatch archives, the Army's Nike guided missile antiaircraft battery on the Island was completed in about 1956.
Other towns have spent money on new senior centers, Gannon pointed out, while Grand Island has stood pat. "Hamburg is on their second new building since I've been in this field," Gannon said.
Hamburg residents complained that their senior center pool is too small, Gannon said, adding that it's a problem she would like to have. The only time the Golden Age Center has a pool is when it rains, she said, after the parking lot drains rainwater into the vestibule. "Water runs right into our building and then there's like a flood in the hallway," Gannon said.
Not all the patrons of the GAC want something new. At a July Town Board meeting, senior Nancy Tobe of Tracey Lane said she gathered 56 signatures on a petition to keep the center where it is.
"We would like to stay at the Nike Base. It's a beautiful park-like setting. It's got plenty of parking spaces. It's just a home and we'd like to stay," Tobe said.
Pat Akinbami of West River Road called the GAC "a country retreat, kind of like a wellness community that we have going on." She praised the easy access and parking. "And it has a homelike atmosphere. ... We have a couple members who come from other towns that have more modern and larger facilities and say they prefer Grand Island's because of its warmth and charm. So it may be possible to move into a bigger, fancier thing, but we like it where we are."
Menter worried that the building will hold back the department's ability to service its seniors. She said the center is barely meeting present demand from the senior population.
"It's going to grow rapidly as people age, and that's going to really put us in a pickle in the next three to five years if we don't start working on these things now," Menter said. "We're definitely not ready for the future and the future needs."

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