County officials hone in on new location for Crawford County Commission on Aging
Dan Sanderson | Staff Writer
If a number of steps can be taken to go through governmental red tape and hard decisions can be made, the decade and a half-plus search to find a new home for the Crawford County Commission on Aging (COA) and Grayling Senior Center may come to fruition.
The COA has entered into a purchase agreement to buy the former Mayday Windows Building, located at 4388 M-72 West.
The Crawford County Board of Commissioners, at its regular monthly meeting on Thursday, September 26, held a public hearing on a plan to obtain bonds to purchase and renovate the building. Crawford County Administrator Paul Compo said $2.2. million in bonds have been secured from USDA Rural Development for the project.
A total of $428,000 in bonds has been secured to purchase the building as well as a wooded lot located east of the building. A separate bond of over $1.7 million is also secured to renovate the building.
But before the bonds can be issued, county officials must go through a 45-day period to determine if enough elected voters in the county can gather enough signatures on a petition to force a vote on the bonds being issued.
COA Director Alice Snyder was tasked with trying to figure out where a building would be located to provide enough space for senior citizens when she took over the helm of the agency in 2004.
The Mayday Windows building is 20-years-old and has 12,000 square feet, double the space of the existing center, which is 5,500 square feet.
The COA has rented that space from the Grayling Housing Commission since 1973, the year the COA was founded.
The COA contracted with Life Span Design Studio, an architectural consulting firm specializing in planning and the design and renovation of senior centers and other facilities that serve older adults, based in Loveland, Ohio.
The firm has worked on several senior centers in 27 states.
Studies have determined that significant savings would be incurred to renovate the Mayday Windows building compared to upgrading a building of similar size and quality. It was also determined that it would be difficult to find low per square foot price point on any other option.
“It cost way more money to build brand new, and this particular building is in such good shape,” Snyder said. “It’s a nice, well maintained building and it’s going to be easy to renovate.”
Existing office space is located in the front of the building, while a large open is in the back of the structure.
“You basically have your four walls and you can just build to what is needed to provide services,” Snyder said.
Before the process moves forward, the COA board must make decisions on how the renovations would be funded. The three options are using the bond money and making annual bond payments, spearheading a capital campaign and fund-raising, or putting a ballot issue before voters and asking them to approve a millage to pay off the bonds.
“Our annual operating budget does not have a lot of wiggle room for a large bond payment,” Snyder said.
The next COA Board meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Tuesday, October 22, at the Senior Center, 308 Lawndale Street.
“Everybody is welcome to attend and give us their input,” Snyder said.
Also, other decisions would have to be made regarding the layout of the building to provide recreational services, office space, and meal space. An addition could be built onto the building to provide a gym, which would include a walking track and pickleball courts. Pickleball is a paddle sport that combines elements of badminton, tennis, and table tennis.
A special use permit must also be obtained from the Grayling Charter Township Planning Commission to operate a senior center in the building. That matter will be taken up at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, October 30.
County officials are hoping to have plans finalized by March.
“I think if we’re ever going to be able to expand, this is the best and least expensive option,” Snyder said. “To be honest, it all comes down to money.”
In 2009, a contentious proposal to renovate the former Grayling Fish Hatchery building to serve as the COA was rejected by voters at the August primary election polls. Another proposal to build a new senior center on county-owned property located across the AuSable River by the fish hatchery was also turned down.
At the time, senior citizens wanted to have a center located closer to the city.
The COA serves all seniors in Crawford County, who live various housing facilities or their own homes. Just four percent of senior citizens who live in Grayling Housing Commission apartments located adjacent to the senior center are active in COA programs.
“We do everything we can to get them here now,” Snyder said.
If decisions on the project cannot be reached or community support cannot be gathered for the move, that would place county officials in the real estate business.
“Our worst case scenario, if we can’t figure out how to pay for it, the building will go back on the market and we’ll sell it,” Snyder said.