City proposal would cut ties with local senior centers

There are two senior centers in La Crosse, the Harry J. Olson Senior Center on the north side and the Southside Senior Center. For more than a decade, the city has been studying what to do with those centers as the buildings age right along with the people who use them.

Each senior center is owned by the city, but has its own organization in charge. Those groups are paying $300 rent per year for each building. The city says that’s not enough to cover the deferred maintenance costs that is mounting for each building. Now the city is proposing selling the buildings.

It took some convincing at first, but Stuart Sletten and his wife have been going to the Southside Senior Center three times a week for the past 12 years.

Pointing to his card playing friends, Sletten notes how important a space like the center is to people like him.

“It gives the seniors a place to go for a couple hours on a regular basis that keeps them connected to the community and to the human race,” Sletten said.

But the seniors may be getting closer to the end of the deck in their building. The city’s Board of Public Works is recommending the city enter into a five-year lease agreement with both senior center organizations. At the end of the lease, the city will offer the buildings to the senior groups for $1.

“They would take ownership of those buildings, those facilities, accept the responsibility for all of the maintenance responsibility, the lawn, the sidewalk, the snow in the winter time, the structural repairs to the building, the roof, the elevators, the HVAC systems, the lighting,” La Crosse Public Works Director Dale Hexom said.

Hexom said a 2012 study by an architectural firm found the Southside Senior Center needs $221,000-$257,000 in repairs. While the Harry J. Olson Senior Center on the northside requires $312,000-$348,000.

“The recommendation from the architect was, ‘If these facilities are intended to be here long term, those are the long term type of improvements that really need to be looked at and made,'” Hexom said.

Sletten feels the southside center is in ‘adequate’ shape right now. He said even for a dollar, his group would not be able to afford the building at the end of the lease, which is why he and the city hope that a solution can be found before their lease runs out.

“Five years gives everybody an opportunity, the city and us, to grow in what the future might be,” Sletten said.

One of the concerns discussed at the Board of Public Works meeting was that people from outside of La Crosse are using these senior centers. Board members question why city tax payers should be paying for the two senior centers when non-taxpayers are using them.

This proposal was only discussed at the Board of Public Works meeting. It will be brought to the city council in November, the council will vote on it in December.