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Senior center approved

September 22, 2010 - Bring on the bulldozers.

The Orion Township Board of Trustees voted 6-1 Monday to move ahead with construction of a new community senior center near Clarkston and Joslyn roads, despite yet another spike in estimated costs since the board last met Aug. 30.

The figures now come in at c $3,714,000, or $134 per square foot.

Trustee John Steimel cast the sole dissenting vote.

"Just like every project we work on the cost keeps going up," Steimel said, noting he was in favor of a new senior center, but thought the township should set a maximum cost and stick to it. "We don't seem to care. We can't seem to put a cap on it and work from there; we go the other way."

The project was first proposed at a cost of $1.3 million for the 27,000 square-foot building.

However, said Supervisor Matthew Gibb, the township originally planned a smaller building but later agreed more floor space was necessary to accommodate an increasing senior population. Reducing the building size, he said, is not an option.

"We can't," Gibb said. "We expanded because of the need for programming, exercise and wellness needs. "We can't shrink it."

But, he added, the project isn't going to move again, nor does he expect it to get any larger.

"I really feel this is the final cost," Gibb said, noting the $3.7 million figure made him "gulp a little, to say the least." He also pointed out the other site near Clarkston Road and M-24 didn't include the costs for water and sewer or road improvements.

Gibb said he was hoping for a groundbreaking by mid October.

When it first appeared before the board last December, the project was slated as an innovative, public/private partnership between the township and a local builder.

Township costs for the project, which was, and still is, to be paid for from the Eagle Valley Host Fee Fund, were initially estimated at $1.3 million.

The Host Fee Fund has a projected year-end fund balance of about $2.7 million.

In May, the board got news the price had climbed, but authorized an expenditure of 2.44 million. At the Aug 30 meeting the figures rolled in somewhere near somewhere near $3.3 million. But the new number, Gibb said, is all-inclusive, from "the sprinkler heads down to the box that turns them on."

And, although the township is faced with likely cuts to police services next year, and a possible millage increase to support the fire department, Gibb said he was ready to move forward; host fee funds can only be used for certain types of projects.

"The sheriff will take care of itself and the fire will take care of itself," Gibb said. "Twenty years from now people would look back and call the board "visionary." Only a board with vision and courage would do this."

Evelyn Doyle, a senior who works as an instructor in the senior center, told the board the project was important.

"I can't tell you what it would mean to us seniors to have a real senior center, a real building all our programs could fit into," she said. "So I'm asking you, please can we have a really decent senior center?"

The board ultimately voted 6-1 to move ahead with construction at a cost not to exceed $3,000,000 from the host fee fund, and also to include the $600,000 contribution from the Orion Cable Commission, as plans still include some 4,400 square feet of space for Orion Neighborhood Television (ONTV), as well.

* * * * *

Several letters ran in recent editions of the Review, suggesting renovation of the Ehman Center in the village was a better option for the senior center.

Stephen Auger, president of Auger Associates Architects Inc., got the ball rolling in his letter published Aug. 8, when he wrote, "In my 15 years of practicing architecture in Lake Orion I have watched this architectural and community gem slowly turn into an eyesore, being demolished by neglect, and the lack of funding, leadership and imagination.

With the money we will be spending to tear up a beautiful virgin parcel of land, lay down a sheet of asphalt (the site is too far from anything to walk to), bring in water, sewer, gas and electric; and then construct a building, we could have a fully refurbished Ehman Center with elevator within a truly sustainable walking district.

To my way of thinking this is a win, win, win, win. An historic building is saved by strong, visionary political leadership."

Resident Carol Roughton concurred the following week, writing that the environment, nearby business, and the seniors would benefit from having a center they could walk to.

Leadership in the township, she penned, has shown "disregard for our community's natural beauty that has already manifested itself in the urban sprawl that our beloved Gingellville has endured."

And, with "78 Years as an Orionite" under his belt, Jim Buchman pointed to a number of historic buildings around the village that have been restored and are serving a purpose.

"All of these existing buildings have a rich history," he wrote. "How fortunate we are that many have maintained them. The Ehman Center could certainly become a shining example of utilization and preservation for all of us."

But at Monday's meeting, Trustee JoAnn Van Tassel said she was part of a three-person committee in the late 90s that looked into the feasibility of converting the Ehman Center to a senior center.

"It's so chopped up," Van Tassel said. "It would require a lot of modifications and a new heating system.

The building, she said, would also need to come into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, which would take some doing, as well, and parking space at the center is limited.

"It sounds good in theory," she said, noting the Ehman Center is about 17,000 square feet compared to the proposed building's 27,000 square feet. "But it's very impractical. You'd have to meet village ordinances and those are not necessarily the same as township ordinances."

Trustee Mark Crane, agreed, and said his law firm once represented the building's owner and worked to help develop an alternate use for the Ehman Center.

"There might be a good use, but this is not it," he said, echoing Van Tassel's concerns about accessibility, the heating system, and a new roof. "It's not laid out well for a senior center."

Clerk Penny Shults said the picturesque parcel on Joslyn is a more centralized location, offers more visibility, and easy access for seniors and township employees.

"I can't even imagine having a senior center in the Ehman building," she said.

Lake Orion Review Editor
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