Senior center proposal prompts many questions

We hope the future of the city’s senior center becomes a little less murky in the coming months.

The Marquette City Commission Monday heard a recommendation to move the center to Lakeview Arena from its current location in the lower level of city hall – a site which apparently leaves much to be desired.

We were initially surprised to hear the senior center wasn’t considered up to snuff – largely because we haven’t heard public outcry against the facility. But parking in that area is limited and no buses run past the center’s entrance. Additionally, the building infrastructure – which dates from the 1970s – is lacking, according to officials from an architectural firm hired by the city.

Assuming the need is real and the center is inadequate, the move to Lakeview doesn’t sound like a bad idea. The city already owns the property and turning one small area of the arena – the Citizens Forum Room, located in the southwest corner of Lakeview -will require few infrastructure changes.

We realize it’s still very early in the process, but there are some key questions that need to be asked as the idea gathers steam:

  • The Citizen’s Forum Room, while possibly underused, is quite well suited for its intended purpose. Where will community meetings and other functions be accomodated if the senior center takes its place?
  • What’s the most effective use of city funds? The cost of building a new senior center facility could be $1.25 million; renovating the existing center would run about $673,000; renovating the Lakeview Arena space, $585,000. These totals should be closely examined. The renovation of the existing facility and the Lakeview option are close enough that we suspect a few cost savings on the renovation could bring them even closer.
  • Finally, how will the project be paid for? Though the architectural firm didn’t suggest how the city could pay for such a project, the idea of tax funding was floated. While we’re not against providing great services for senior citizens, we are leery of increasing the tax burden on city residents. Moreover, we want to make sure any revenues for senior services are spent in the most effective manner possible.

It’s not clear the best option for an updated senior center has yet been identified. Commissioners Fred Stonehouse and Michael Coyne expressed concerns over the Lakeview Arena site at Monday’s meeting. Stonehouse said he hoped the commission could craft a plan that would establish a viable center for years to come. That’s a worthy goal.

While the path to a future senior center seems uncertain, we’re confident planning is on the right track.