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2012-13 Budget Shines On Garden City Seniors

Senior Recreation Center to be renovated, senior programs enhanced

Garden City seniors stand poised to receive their fair share of budget dollars. At a meeting held at the Garden City Senior Recreation Center on Monday, March 19, Department of Recreation head Kevin E. Ocker announced that $650,000 has been earmarked to renovate and possibly expand the existing Recreation Center building on Gold Club Lane, and $30,000 “in new activity money” has been allocated for senior trips and programs.

Ocker’s announcement comes on the heels of budget planning sessions for fiscal 2012-13. Seniors have intensified their lobbying efforts to obtain proportionately equitable funds over the past five months, according to George Salem, co-president of the Garden City Retired Men’s Club. To aid seniors in their requests, Deputy Mayor John Watras spearheaded the formation of the Senior Liaison Committee last October. The committee serves as a communications link between seniors and village officials.

“I can’t tell you enough how supportive [the mayor and board of trustees] have been,” Ocker said. “[John Watras] made it a point to make [the Senior Recreation Center] a priority this year…The trustees have found a way…not only to put a great budget plan together in difficult times but also balance things and find a way to fund a $650,000 project that will directly benefit seniors in this community…That project is real. It’s going to happen,” Ocker asserted.

The current recreation center building is home to at least a dozen organizations, including the Retired Men’s Club, the Senior Women’s Club, various bridge groups, the Garden City Republican Club and the American Legion, Ocker said. To help ensure that the needs of all organizations are met, Ocker will facilitate several focus group meetings with representatives from the groups who use the building as well as residents who do not use the building but who are interested in the project. The process will be similar to the one employed in a previous pool project, which “worked very well,” Ocker said.

Ocker said he planned to draft a request for proposal for the selection of an architectural firm within two weeks of the meeting on March 19. Once an architect has been obtained, the Senior Liaison Committee will form groups of about 15 people, who will meet with the architect before he drafts any drawings. Subsequently, the architect will present a preliminary plan based on the group’s input, at which time the group can suggest changes. Once final revisions are made, the construction project will go out for public bid. Ocker anticipates the process will take two or three months.

Asked whether the entire building will be rebuilt, or the new construction will be limited to an expansion, Ocker said he could not answer that because they are not yet tied to a plan, adding that the village is prepared to expand the building so that more than one group can use the building at the same time. For example, the recreation department is not tied to where the kitchen, bathroom and storage room currently are. “These can be in other places so that the building can be used more diversely to benefit all groups,” he said, emphasizing the role of the focus groups.

The $650,000 that has been earmarked for the project will not have a negative tax impact. Ocker said that the board identified a block of money in the budget that was originally allocated for a sports field project that is no longer on the docket. “I think the number is a good number because your construction here is going to be slab on grade, it’s not the most expensive type of construction…I think the budget is going to hold up,” he said.

The current footprint of the building is 1,800 square feet, and the expansion could add another 2,200 square feet to the building. Ocker hopes to have plans and specs completed by the fall. At that time, he will have an idea of when contractors can break ground.

In addition to a renovated recreation center building, seniors can look forward to improvements on the program side, as well, thanks to $30,000 in new activity money, Ocker said. The long-awaited replacement of the pool table will soon happen, and money has also been allocated for sofas and new chairs. Additionally, funding has been set to rent a coach bus and driver, instead of a school bus, for senior trips, of which there will be eight more. The total cost of the bus and driver will be picked up by the village, which will enable the recreation department to keep the cost down for those who would like to go on the trips. The cost of the trips themselves will also be subsidized, Ocker added.

The newly budgeted program will include two picnics and more money for special speakers, increasing the $2,700 originally earmarked for speakers. New to the program is the opportunity for seniors to have five catered affairs at the recreation center. Ocker said that they will seek sponsorship for those luncheons, in addition to the allocated budget money.

The budget is set to be approved on April 2, Watras said.