Traverse City Record-Eagle

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December 19, 2012

Effort afoot to replace Traverse City Senior Center

TRAVERSE CITY — Max Binkley just stopped to play shuffleboard.

Now he finds himself helping to lead an effort to replace the Traverse City Senior Center.

Binkley, 68, hadn't used the center until he and his wife ventured there to play shuffleboard about two years ago.

"It's not an appealing building," Binkley said. "I talk to seniors and they say, 'why would I go into that building'."

Over time Binkley became familiar with the center and learned with surprise its significant level of programming. He soon found himself atop a committee that's charged with deciding whether a new center can be built on-site, or if a new location will be required.

"We've learned what is needed and looked at over 19 pieces of property and talked to a lot of people," Binkley said.

The current structure started out as picnic pavilion with a fire place, Binkley said. Walls and a few rooms were added to turn it into a senior center, but space is limited. It can hold just 40 people and does not accommodate multiple, simultaneous programs.

"We are one of the top centers in the state for the programs we can provide, but it's not big enough to house all the activities," said Lori Wells, Senior Center Network deputy director for the Grand Traverse County Commission on Aging. "Our seniors deserve much better than what we have right now."

Wells credits Binkley and Kim Schmitz, president of the support group Friends of the Traverse City Senior Center, with re-energizing the 20-year-old movement to replace the outdated building. The group obtained drawings and cost estimates to replace the current structure with a three-story building to handle programming and house COA offices. A feasibility study showed the friends group could raise $4 million, well below the $9 million needed.

"So now we're scaling back with a smaller building and looking at all fundraising options," Schmitz said.

One option is to find a new location for a full-service senior center while turning the current building into a satellite center. Binkley has looked at several possible locations, which include:

Grand Traverse Commons area; the old health department building; property around the new health department building on LaFranier Road, and the county owned Civic Center.

The group initially dropped both the Civic Center and old health department building as unworkable, but the Civic Center is back on the table. Binkley now sits on a county committee that is looking into expanding the Civic Center.

"I've been working on this a year ... and we start rolling along and then someone comes up with another idea," Binkley said. "At some point we'll have to say we've studied it enough."

Schmitz said the senior center currently has a great location and the general preference is to build at that site.

"There will have to be a lot of good reasons for that not to be the recommendation," she said.

Binkley said he hopes to have a recommendation ready for the COA within six months, but it might take a year.

"As I get deeper and deeper into this project I start to understand why it's never gotten any further," Binkley said. "But we are going to do this and I am not going to let this go.

"I do not want the seniors to be disappointed again."

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