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Published: Wednesday, 12/10/2008

New senior center could cost Oregon $3M

BY CLAUDIA BOYD-BARRETT
BLADE STAFF WRITER

If Oregon officials want to build a much-talked-about senior center next year, the city will have to come up with at least $3 million.

That could be difficult given current economic trends, council members said.

"So much of what we do in municipal government is contingent on funding from the federal and state levels," said council president Michael Sheehy. "Before the developments in the last month I was very optimistic that money would be forthcoming. Now it would be disingenuous" to believe that.

The city already has selected a preliminary design for the senior center and is working on a final cost estimate, city administrator Ken Filipiak said. The design by Munger Munger & Associates, a Toledo-based architectural firm, is for a 29,534-square-foot center with multiple rooms that would be built off Starr Avenue, on city-owned land near the William P. Coontz Complex off Seaman Road.

It would replace Oregon's current senior center, the James "Wes" Hancock Senior Citizens Center on 5760 Bayshore Rd. at Southshore Park. That center has 375 members and runs activities such as bingo, exercise classes, and supportive medical services. The new center would be bigger and more centrally located.

The cost of the entire plan is approximately $5 million, but the city is examining ways to cut the initial expense of the project to around $3 million by phasing in aspects such as parking, lighting, and storage space, finance committee chairman James Seaman said. The bulk of the project would be financed over the long term, officials said.

But while Mr. Sheehy and Mr. Seaman projected that it could be several years before the city is able to break ground on the project, Mr. Filipiak was adamant that work on the senior center can still happen next year.

Although the city's current budget does not make allowances for the senior center project, Mr. Filipiak said he is confident that enough funding can be secured from government agencies and the private sector to move forward with building the center in 2009.

"Traditionally here in Oregon we pass our budget by the end of the year. That doesn't mean that other worthwhile projects don't get added as the year progresses," Mr. Filipiak explained. "We expect to be discussing this project as a proposal at some point next year."

Not likely, according to Mr. Seaman. Even if the city can obtain financing for the center, debt service payments combined with a projected $225,000 a year in operating costs would be difficult to squeeze into a tight budget, he said.

Next year, Oregon faces a "perfect storm" of lower income tax revenue, a drop in returns on city investments, and up to 30 percent higher health-care costs for city employees, Mr. Seaman explained.

"We're worried about what 2009 has in store for us," he said. "We want to avoid laying off any people."

Mr. Sheehy said the city must concentrate on paying for basic services and not embark on large capital improvement projects right now.

"Our first responsibility is public safety, drainage, roads, just nuts and bolts," he said. "Those are things we're going to continue to do."

Paula Benton, the director of the Hancock center, said she hadn't heard about any delays for building the new complex. She said a new, bigger center could attract even more of Oregon's senior citizens and provide more room for activities.

"We're just very cramped," Ms. Benton said. "We have one main hall, so it's hard to have multiple activities."



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