Politics & Government

Will University Place’s senior programs be saved? City Council to decide Monday

Marvin Dahl, right, plays bridge with Paul Cutler, 80, left, B.J. Ogden, 69, and Don Wilbur, 85 at University Place Senior Center in University Place in 2015. The city will stop funding its recreation programs, including its many senior activities, after Dec. 31. But a local nonprofit has offered to keep the center and its programming going, starting Jan. 2.
Marvin Dahl, right, plays bridge with Paul Cutler, 80, left, B.J. Ogden, 69, and Don Wilbur, 85 at University Place Senior Center in University Place in 2015. The city will stop funding its recreation programs, including its many senior activities, after Dec. 31. But a local nonprofit has offered to keep the center and its programming going, starting Jan. 2. Staff file, 2015

A community nonprofit has volunteered to continue the city of University Place’s senior center and its programming after city funding runs out at the end of the year.

The last-minute arrangement came at the urging of City Councilwoman Denise McCluskey.

“I was trying to figure out how I could keep the senior center’s doors open,” McCluskey said. “I was looking at different options.”

The UP City Council voted last year to shutter its recreation department and senior center because of a lack of revenue. City and community leaders hoped the creation of a metropolitan park district would save the programs, but voters rejected the proposal in April.

With the Dec. 31 deadline looming, McCluskey searched for a lifeline.

Enter Community Connection Place, a nonprofit with a vision to build a $20 million community center in UP.

McCluskey approached the all-volunteer-led nonprofit and floated the idea that if the group kept the senior center open, it would raise its visibility in the community. The increased awareness would help when the group steps up fundraising for the community center, McCluskey said.

The group agreed. Now it’s up to the City Council to approve the arrangement.

“It’s really frankly a no-brainer,” McCluskey said. “We either have a relationship with these guys or the senior center’s doors close.”

Under a proposed lease agreement, the nonprofit would rent the city-owned senior center for $1 a month, according to City Attorney Steve Victor. In exchange, the group would cover all costs associated with the building at 2534 Grandview Drive W.

“It’s all-inclusive of everything in the senior center,” Victor said of the lease. “But at the same time they are taking it and owning it. They are responsible for all the expenses, all the maintenance.”

Nonprofit leaders see the arrangement as a first step into the public spotlight.

“It’s a great opportunity for our organization and for the city to try something new,” said Amanda Ellis, Community Connection Place secretary.

“Our initial focus will be to sustain the programs that are there now. Then we hope to be able to enhance them and bring more of the community into this place,” Ellis said.

The goal is to open the center Jan. 2 so seniors won’t be without programs such as weekly card games and yoga classes. The nonprofit also plans to keep partnerships with foot care specialists and Catholic Community Services, which uses the center as a meal site.

A popular program that takes seniors on daily and overnight excursions won’t be offered initially, but Ellis said they hope to bring it back.

Eventually the nonprofit wants to launch more programming at the center for seniors and youths to interact, said Community Connection Place president Sheila Phillip.

If the council approves the lease agreement, it would be “a great milestone” for the nonprofit that has worked since 2010 to build a community center in the city, she said.

The City Council learned of the lease agreement at a study session this month. The discussion came after the council narrowly approved its 2017-2018 budget, solidifying its decision not to fund recreation programs.

Council members Caroline Belleci and Steve Worthington cited concern about whether the group had the financial backing to operate the center. The group said it does, citing support from the Gary E. Milgard Foundation’s Windows of Hope.

McCluskey, Councilman Ken Grassi and Mayor Javier Figueroa appear poised to support the lease.

“There isn’t any skin in the game for the council except giving them a building they were going to board up,” McCluskey said. “Whether they succeed or fail, we’ll still be in the same boat.”

Brynn Grimley: 253-597-8467, @bgrimley

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