State College

Additional funds sought for Centre Region senior center

An unexpected raise in costs for the future Centre Region senior center had Centre Region Parks and Recreations Director Ron Woodhead asking the Council of Governments General Forum for additional funds Monday evening.

When the center closed at its former location in Fraser Plaza in downtown State College in September, the plan was to relaunch the center in an empty space within the Nittany Mall. According to Woodhead, there wasn’t time to renovate the space in time to be opened by Sept. 1, so the center was opened in a smaller interim space.

Currently, the center occupies a 3,225-square-foot space in the mall roughly between Bon-Ton and Sears, Woodhead said. Arrangements were made to occupy a 7,075-square-foot space closer to Sears.

The 2016 budget allotted $186,500 to be spent on the interim and permanent spaces, he said, however actual quotes submitted to the mall at the beginning of January showed that amount to be too low.

“We’re short on this,” he said, “and the fund in the motion will allow the way forward for this over the life of the 10-year lease we have with the Nittany Mall.”

In order to finish the revisions, Woodhead asked that the forum increase the budget by an additional $10,000 per year over the next 10 years to cover the expenses. He said he would also be approaching the county Board of Commissioners on Tuesday to request a county increase of $6,250 per year as well.

The interim space is packed, he said, as visits to the center have increased 57 percent since opening. The center now averages 173 visitors a month, up from 133 at its former location.

Woodhead commended the mall for working with the Centre Region, noting mall officials have been “very cooperative and supportive, though minor and major details, to get us here.” The interim space was to have been closed by Dec. 31, he said, but the mall has agreed to leave the space open until April 30.

The plan is contingent on all municipalities working together, he said, and working with the COG finance committee to make the agreement work. Renovations must begin on the new space by Feb.1 if the region is to meet its lease obligation and open by May 1.

Finance committee Chairman Bud Graham said he “wholeheartedly” agreed the increase should be made. Even though it was a surprise, it won’t put expenses over a tipping point.

State College Borough Councilwoman Theresa Lafer said she would support the increase, but felt the whole situation was “a huge fail in red letters.

“The next time we have a major expenditure, we should go back to starting numbers all over again,” she said, “because we clearly have not figured out how to cost out anything.”

County Commissioner Michael Pipe, who was in attendance, commented that the increase in seniors validated the need to increase funds, and would be advocating to increase the county contributions.

“The staff (at the center), the dedication they show, is truly remarkable for the seniors there,” he said.

The motion to amend the 10-year agreement to provide for increased rental and project costs not to exceed $20,000 annually was approved by the municipalities. Halfmoon Township abstained.

Jeremy Hartley: 814-231-4616, @JJHartleyNews