Middletown seeks to purchase Central Connections building that may close due to financial difficulties

Legal process to acquire property will take time, law director says.

MIDDLETOWN — City Manager Paul Lolli said the city will buy Central Connections, the senior center that may close due to financial difficulties after Executive Director Diane Rodgers, part of a criminal investigation, was terminated last week.

City Council conducted a special meeting Thursday afternoon in council chambers, which was packed with concerned senior citizens.

After a 55-minute executive session, when the city offered those in attendance with bottles of water, Lolli said the city will buy the property from Central Connections and council made a financial commitment to continue the “critical services” at the center.

Lolli called the finances at the center “a crisis situation.”

But Ben Yoder, the city’s law director, warned that the city was “attempting” to purchase the building on Central Avenue, a process complicated by the number of possible creditors. He said the legal process will take time.

In the meantime, Lolli said the goal is to return Central Connection to “normal” operations. He said the city hopes to retain as many of the 35 employees as possible.

“We need time to work specifics,” he said.

Mayor Nicole Condrey compared the situation at the center to a tornado ravaging the building.

“We are Red Cross,” said Condrey, who added feeding and transporting the seniors to appointments takes precedence over exercise programs or other social activities.

Vice Mayor Monica Thomas thanked the seniors for attending the meeting and caring for their neighbors and friends. She believes if the city purchases the building it can “move forward from this in a positive way.”

Council member Rodney Muterspaw said during the executive session there was no arguing among council members and city staff. The goal, he said, was to “find a solution to help people.”

Earlier, Muterspaw said it’s important to offer protection to the elderly and children.

“The elderly have been messed with,” Muterspaw said.

The center of the controversy is Rodgers, hired as executive director in 2021. Her contract was terminated by the board last week and Rodgers was escorted out of the building by Middletown police.

Police Chief David Birk said the criminal investigating is continuing.

Rodgers and her attorney, Tyrone Borger, were scheduled to meet with Middletown detectives last week, but they failed to show, Birk told the Journal-News.

When Central Connections cancelled its congregate meals due to losing $1 per meal, according to board president Rick Fishbaugh, the city helped connect seniors with congregate meals at First Presbyterian Church, 2910 Central Ave.

Last week, Fishbaugh said the senior center may file for bankruptcy.

John Zampatti, 77, a member of Central Connections, said he attended Thursday’s meeting because he was curious about the center’s finances. He believes the center should have a board and another advisory board so they could periodically check balance sheets.

The finances, he said, should not be kept “secret.”

“It’s unfortunate,” he said.

The Central Connections café was closed Saturday because several servers called off sick, Fishbaugh said. The center also cancelled its Rolling Through The Decades Music Festival/Car Show scheduled for Saturday due to recent employee layoffs that left the center with “insufficient staff to cover this event,” according to its Facebook page.

Then on Thursday, the center announced it would be closed every Saturday and Sunday.

Central Connections stopped delivering meals July 25, one day after laying off 50 employees. Since then, First Presbyterian Church has provided meals for seniors, said Paula Smith, director of communications for the Council on Aging.

Smith said the church will provide congregate meals from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. The plan is for COA to find a permanent place for the meals to be served within a few weeks, Smith said.

Partners in Prime, Meals on Wheels Southwestern Ohio and Warren County Community Services have stepped in to cover all home-delivered meals to clients, according to Smith. Meals on Wheels will also provide meals for the seven congregate sites Central Connections previously served, she said.

Smith said COA is working to connect transportation clients and clients receiving supportive services with new providers.

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