City, county officials discuss options for new senior center
By Jon Hawley
Friday, November 2, 2018
Pasquotank County greatly needs a new senior center, but where to put it and how to pay for it remain unknowns, Pasquotank and Elizabeth City officials said earlier this week.
City councilors and county commissioners brainstormed over the senior center during a joint meeting at the Carolina Center in the county commerce park on Monday. City officials have supported a new senior center for months, but Monday was the first time they presented the idea to the full board of county commissioners.
The current senior center is tucked into the Knobbs Creek Recreation Center. The city and county established it in 1991, with each agreeing to pay half its operating costs.
The center now faces “severe overcrowding,” especially during peak hours, and leaves many seniors under-served, Senior Center Coordinator Lauren Turner told the elected officials Monday.
“Best way I know to tell you is, we're just getting enough air every day,” Turner said.
The center only has seven activity rooms, and their regular uses are often disrupted or canceled for conflicting events, whether for senior-oriented workshops, such as for Medicare or taxes, or large recreational events at Knobbs Creek.
Turner also said the limited space prevents offering new activities, and warned that overcrowding will only get worse, based on projections that Pasquotank's senior population will only keep growing.
Mayor Bettie Parker said she had recently visited the center as well, and that seniors “bombarded” her with requests for more space. Parker also noted the state promotes Elizabeth City as a “certified retirement community” — and suggested the city needs to make sure state officials live up to that.
“When they come here, we want to be able to accommodate them properly,” Parker said. “That's how you keep people.”
Commissioners agreed a larger center was needed, and didn't dispute the county would share in its costs — which could be well over $1 million.
City Manager Rich Olson walked the elected leaders through their options.
First, he explained the governments cannot expand the senior center at Knobbs Creek. Adjacent land is not suitable to build on, he said, and, he doubted the current building could bear the weight of a second floor. Adding a floor would also require installing an elevator for handicapped accessibility, a large expense, he noted.
The new center should be in a building of between 15,000 and 20,000 square feet, he said, to allow room for growth, both in population and activities. The city has ample vacant land to build such a facility on — such as at Enfield Park, he noted — but a new building would cost $5 million or more.
Commissioner Jeff Dixon asked about obtaining a low-interest, long-term U.S. Department of Agriculture loan to finance the facility, but Olson said it might take more than the lifespan of the new center to pay off. That could leave the city and county saddled with debt when it needs to pay for another facility.
It would be better, Olson and County Manager Sparty Hammett agreed, to convert an existing building into a senior center. That would cost $1 million to $2 million, Olson estimated.
Even at $2 million or less, Olson said the new senior center would require issuing debt. The debt likely wouldn't be in both governments' names, but it would be premised on both the city and county paying it off, he added.
Olson also said the city and county were looking at three potential sites, but recommended the city and county only discuss them by name in closed session.
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