West Chester trustees divided on solving seniors’ space problem

Senior citizens in West Chester Twp. have spent years begging trustees to give them space to congregate, and the township now has a rough $4.3-million estimate to renovate their former space at the Activity Center.

But the trustees are divided.

The seniors who regularly attend trustee meetings were ousted from the former center nearly three years ago.

Anne Holbrook is often a spokesperson for the group and she said “you’re going to have show some sign of goodwill.”

“I would like to see something that you’re willing to do, to show that you are willing to do something,” Holbrook told the township trustees on Tuesday. “Something positive moving in the direction of your maturing community, you’ve got to start it now.”

The topic of creating community space first arose in 2019 after the seniors were displaced from the Activity Center. Community First, which ran senior programming at the center, decided not to renew its lease, and the township chose to sell the property.

The trustees had a $1.8-million purchase agreement with Regency Centers so a giant Kroger Marketplace could be built, but the deal fell through last summer. The trustees met with Regency and Kroger officials in executive session recently. Township officials can’t divulge exactly what was discussed.

“They’re continuing to look at the cost and sharpening their pencils,” Trustee Mark Welch told the Journal-News. “Trying to come up with a financial plan that would make sense for them and the township.”

ExploreA new Kroger Marketplace could end West Chester seniors’ plans for gathering space again

If the deal is indeed dead, the trustees are looking at three options to provide the seniors and others meeting space: renovating the Activity Center, installing heat and air conditioning in the Muhlhauser Barn so the seniors could use the lower level and the estimated $4.8 million MidPointe Library expansion.

When the Journal-News asked the three trustees their preference, they each picked a different favorite.

Township Administrator Larry Burks obtained an informal estimate for fully renovating the old Activity Center from top to bottom, and the estimate is $4.3 million. Welch said he visited the building with a contractor recently to get an estimate on replacing the roof, and it is in bad shape due to years of neglect.

If they take out some things, such as $280,058 for architecture and engineering — he said the township likely doesn’t need those services for basic renovation —some landscaping and other items, be believes they could knock that price down to around $1.5 million. He favors this option but said it cannot be exclusively for seniors.

“Fundamentally I think we open a door here and set a precedent, which we may have already set,” Welch said. “Where any special interest group could come and say well you’re doing this for them, do it for us. So in that respect my preference is to do something that would serve the entire community.”

Trustee Ann Becker has been a staunch supporter of the library expansion and still is. She said the library has finally received an architect’s estimate to add 15,000 square feet to the library at a cost of just under $5 million.

“I still stand by the idea that the community center was an idea that we tried and it didn’t quite work,” Becker said. “I think adding more space to the library will give space to our seniors, space to our teens, space to our young children in the community, at almost the same price as it would to fix up the community center, it would be a benefit to all people in our community.”

The Muhlhauser Barn is Trustee Lee Wong’s preference because it is likely the cheapest option. The barn and the Activity Center would also require township staff because they can’t allow unsupervised access to township facilities. All three trustees have said social services are not their purview.

“We are not at that level yet to provide this kind of service,” Wong said. “Right now it’s our core service we want to concentrate on, police, fire, the amenities that are provided to the residents and businesses, that’s what’s important here. Social services is not top priority.”

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