MOUNT CARMEL — A new administration once again brings new uncertainty to the Mount Carmel Senior Center, which now faces the prospect of being relocated to a city-owned residential property when its City Hall lease runs out at the end of this month.
During Thursday’s Board of Mayor and Aldermen workshop, Mayor Pat Stilwell noted that the city has been using the Senior Center’s area on the second floor of City Hall a lot more lately.
Stilwell suggested moving the center into the house at 210 Maple St., which the city purchased in 2017 for a possible expansion of the adjacent City Park.
The house currently serves as the office of Building Inspector Vince Pishner, but Stilwell said he could be moved to another location.
Stilwell’s suggestion will come up for a vote at the Feb. 25 BMA meeting.
“It’s not like we’re throwing them out or anything”
Stilwell noted that former Alderman Garrett White will be offering a free tax service to Mount Carmel residents on the second floor of City Hall, but that plan has been complicated by the recent reopening of the Senior Center.
The BMA is using that space for meetings lately because it allows more space to spread out. Stilwell said she foresees the second floor also being used as a community center.
“It’s not like we’re throwing them out or anything,” Stilwell said. “It’s (the Maple Street house) sitting up there not being used, and they could use it.”
Stilwell added, “Several years ago we would rent this (second floor) out to people, like if they had a baby shower or a wedding shower or a retirement (party).”
“That’s a good suggestion. A good place for them”
The Senior Center is an independent organization which uses the second floor of City Hall for a $1 annual rent payment, including utilities.
The town also provides the Center with an annual charitable contribution, although it has been cut by two-thirds over the years. In the current fiscal year, the BMA approved $12,000, down from $17,000 the previous year. In past years, the city contributed $36,000 annually.
Alderman Jim Gilliam, who wanted to contribute “zero” to the Senior Center in this year’s budget, agreed with moving the seniors to Maple Street.
“That’s a good suggestion,” Gilliam said. “A good place for them.”
“They’ve got a place to walk, barbecue, whatever they want to do,” he said.
Gilliam also suggested that the Senior Center pay its own utility bills at the new house and claimed that the center “has $100,000 in the bank.”
Senior Center Director Sue Jarrett says that’s not true. She said the center has been involved in an ongoing fundraising effort to buy a handicapped accessible van and has about $50,000 in the bank.
“This is another devastating blow”
Jarrett said she was also caught off guard by the possibility that the center will have to move at the end of the month. It has been closed since the COVID-19 shutdown last year and only just had a “soft reopening” last week for on-premises activities.
She told the Times News she has never seen the Maple Street house and doesn’t know if it would be suitable for the needs of seniors, but one potential concern is whether it is ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) accessible.
“This is another devastating blow, and it just shows what some of our Board of Mayor and Aldermen really think about the seniors,” Jarrett said. “I think it’s a shame that we have been targeted again. It’s devastating to us, and it’s a sad day for the town of Mount Carmel that this is happening all over again.”
In 2015, then-Mayor Larry Frost enacted a plan to remove the independent Senior Center and create a municipal center on the second floor of City Hall. The independent center located to a house on the far east end of Main Street, but was invited back to City Hall in 2016 after the majority on the BMA shifted against Frost.
“I really don’t think they thought this through”
The Senior Center’s current enrollment is 120 members. Approximately 60 have attended since last week’s soft reopening.
Jarrett said she doubts if that Maple Street house is equipped to function as a senior center.
“It has to be ADA accessible, sufficient parking, handicapped parking. There’s a lot that goes into it,” Jarrett said. “Then we’ve got to move and re- establish ourselves. Provide meals. I really don’t think they thought this through.”
Jarrett added, “We’ve got a good town, and good people in this town, and the Senior Center is providing a service that is needed and necessary. I would like to see it fully supported by the Board of Mayor and Aldermen.”