The Urbana Champaign County Senior Center, currently with more than 600 members ages 55 and older, will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2021, a perfect year to move into a new more member-friendly building, according to Stacy Barnhart, the center’s executive director.
That’s the plan if Champaign County voters approve a five-year, 0.5-mill additional levy on March 17.
The tax would generate an estimated $458,000 a year to construct a one-story facility at 150 Patrick Ave. and it would cost the owner of a $100,000 home $15.78 a year for the duration of the levy.
It was about one year ago that Civista Bank donated 2.2 acres behind its 601 Scioto St. property to the senior center.
“They were kind enough to donate that land to the community,” Barnhart said. That means the senior center need not raise funds to buy land, however, funds are needed to construct a facility.
In a recent letter to senior center members, Barnhart says the planned 9,000-square-foot building, with plenty of parking and access from Patrick Avenue, will cost nearly $3 million. The letter states the center has been able to save close to one-third of this amount.
Barnhart is adamant that funding currently going to programs not be used to create the new facility.
“I won’t cut programming,” she said, adding that a variety of programs and services are offered, some for active seniors and others for less active members.
“To join, you only have to be 55,” she said. “The activity levels are going to be different for the 100-year-old who joined just last year.”
Wanted: Space for more services, activities
“It’s something that is so needed,” Barnhart said of the proposed facility, noting the senior center started in a downtown-area structure in 1971 and has called the former church at the corner of Thompson and Walnut home since about 1980.
“We’ve been growing ever since,” she said. “We would like something more member-friendly.”
Members enter the current two-story center using stairs or a ramp that Barnhart said can be long and difficult for people using walkers. And, carts of groceries can be difficult to maneuver down the ramp for seniors in need.
“A lot of seniors struggle financially,” she said, adding that people are willing to donate money to purchase goods for such seniors, but that the center lacks adequate storage space.
She said a facility with more space and better equipment would allow the center to expand current services and activities and add others.
“It takes forever to do Tuesday lunches,” Barnhart said as an example. “We would love to offer an additional lunch day.”
Barnhart envisions more activities for all activity levels, entertainment for members who don’t get out much, space for members to visit with one another, and a pickleball court. “People keep asking for it,” she said of the game that combines facets of table tennis, badminton and tennis.
She said some senior centers have space for members to drop by for a card game or for a chat. She said the current center lacks the space for people just to “hang out,” that they enter the building only for scheduled activities.
A new center with more space, she said, would allow members to “do something social without having an appointment.”
Barnhart said a place for such socialization is important, a place to meet friends, to make friends and to check up on one another.
“If someone doesn’t come to lunch, their friends know and they check on them,” she said.
Barnhart sees a senior center with adequate space and expanded services as a growing need.
“We’ve outgrown this building,” she said. Noting the county population is 25% senior citizens, she said she has no doubt the 600-plus membership would grow with a larger structure.
The annual fee is $20 for single members and $35 for a couple. Payment plans can be arranged, as can in-kind contributions. And, some membership fees are donated.
“We don’t ever want someone to feel they can’t afford it,” Barnhart said.
Kathy Fox can be reached at 937-652-1331, ext. 1773.