Two senior center proposals come to the fore

Posted on May 4th, 2023 By:

The route to a Gig Harbor-area senior center could take two paths, and a shortcut.

PenMet Parks is conducting a feasibility study to determine whether to build a senior facility and, if so, where. The Greater Gig Harbor Foundation, which operates the existing senior center out of a church, is moving ahead with plans for a forever home near 36th Street and Point Fosdick Drive.

And local business owners Gary Parker and Joe Hillyer are proposing a quicker answer by leasing a Soundview Drive building to house a community/senior center.

Temporary home since 2019

Area seniors lost their previous facility in 2019. They met in the Boys & Girls Club on Skansie Avenue from 2010 to 2019.

In June 2019, Peninsula School District bought that building and converted it to Pioneer Elementary School. The senior center became a GGHF program on May 1, 2019, and took up interim residence at Peninsula Lutheran Church on 38th Avenue later that year.

PenMet Parks is boosting its senior programming while conducting a feasibility study for a senior center.

PenMet Parks is boosting its senior programming while conducting a feasibility study for a senior center.

Peninsula Metropolitan Parks District included $105,000 in its 2022 capital improvement plan to conduct separate feasibility studies for a community aquatics center and a dedicated space for seniors. On Feb. 7, it approved 16-member steering committees for each. The groups are providing public input to consultant ARC Architects of Seattle, which PenMet hired to perform the analyses.

As other proposals arise, PenMet is focusing on its feasibility study and what it sees as a much-needed increase in senior programming. This year it created a new staff position to lead the effort. In the last several months PenMet implemented new programs such as senior fitness and art classes, and senior socials.

The parks district seeks partners to help fill service gaps and strives to avoid duplicating efforts.

“We are committed to collaboration and communication and, specifically regarding senior services, have recently facilitated conversations between various organizations and individuals in order to help advance those goals,” said Executive Director Ally Bujacich.

Feasibility study due this summer

PenMet will complete the feasibility study this summer.

“We want to make data-driven, informed decisions, and the feasibility study will provide that data,” Bujacich said.

A permanent senior center has been a part of Greater Gig Harbor Foundation’s strategic plan since 2019, said CEO and President Emeritus Dr. Julie Ann Gustanski. The nonprofit group has been working to bring it to fruition for about two years.

“We’ve known all along that the current situation is temporary,” Gustanski said. “We have looked at I don’t know how many different possibilities, possible locations, and assessed whether or not they were a good fit.”

Dr. Julie Ann Gustanski

Dr. Julie Ann Gustanski

GGHF has been working the past several years through a needs survey, market research, focus groups and interviews to understand the community’s interests, needs and willingness to support a senior center.

“There’s been a great deal of time and money and analysis and work put into getting us to where we are,” Gustanski said. “… We’re making an effort to make sure what we are proposing meets the needs in the community and is well thought out.”

Foundation finds location

Foundation leaders believe they have identified a good fit.

On April 19, they told senior center members that a longtime Gig Harbor resident offered 13.3 acres near Lighthouse Christian School for an 8,500-square-foot building. The facility could be built within three years. The cost is estimated at $3.2 million. Click here to see the presentation.

A group of knitters at the current Senior Center run by the Greater Gig Harbor Foundation and housed at Peninsula Lutheran Church.

A group of knitters at the current senior center run by the Greater Gig Harbor Foundation and housed at Peninsula Lutheran Church. Photo courtesy of Gig Harbor Senior Center

The location is on a main road with easy access to Highway 16. It is near retail centers, grocery stores, medical services, restaurants, the library and the theater.

The landowner worked with civil engineers to perform site development that includes a wetland delineation, septic, street frontage engineering, a tree survey and conservation plan. As the land is just outside Gig Harbor city limits, Pierce County approved the plat site plan. An architect has produced concept drawings.

The plan includes an events center and other rooms that can be rented to help defray costs.

‘Formidable’ plan developed

“When you’re asking for grants and financial contributions that can go anywhere from a few dollars to millions, you really have to have a formidable plan in place,” Gustanski said. “One that shows here’s what we’re planning, here’s the research behind it, here’s our history of supporting seniors in our community.

“That’s kind of where we’re at. We’ve been working hard behind the scenes to make sure we’re in a healthy place before rolling things out or asking for dollars.”

Next steps include forming planning charettes to delineate design ideas and a strategic task force to research partnerships and sustainability and prepare a three-year timeline. If interested in participating, contact [email protected].

Parker and Hillyer don’t believe seniors should have to wait so long for a new facility. After searching for more than a year, they believe they could be up and running in 2023 at 5775 Soundview Dr. And it would be relatively inexpensive.

Joe Hillyer and Gary Parker

Joe Hillyer and Gary Parker

The 13,000-square-foot facility would serve as both a community center and senior center. Senior activities would fill most of the day. Civic and service organizations could rent it for meetings before 9 a.m. and after 5 p.m.

Already in place is a kitchen they’d upgrade for commercial use, ADA-compliant restrooms and a stage available to performing arts groups. It’s centrally located at the top of Soundview Drive hill, has much parking, is on the bus line, and near Cushman Trail and the Olympic Village Shopping Center.

Lease route cheaper, quicker

They figure they can acquire and operate the building in 2023 for $200,000. It will take another $132,000 to outfit it.

“We poked around for about a year listening to all kinds of drama,” said Parker, who owns BBQ2U restaurant, where he hosts regular senior events. Hillyer serves seniors as president and owner of HomeWatch Caregivers of Tacoma, which provides in-home caregiving services. “We boiled all the (stuff) away and saw what was really going on. Some proposals want to build Taj Mahals. We’re business guys. We look at ROI (return on investment). We want to be fiscally responsible.”

“It meets all the criteria we’ve boiled down through our studies, and it’s available now. We don’t want to wait five to seven years to build it.”

The building at 5775 Soundview Drive that Gary Parker and Joe Hillyer would like to lease for a senior center.

The building at 5775 Soundview Drive that Gary Parker and Joe Hillyer would like to lease for a senior and community center.

The duo presented the proposal to the city during an April 20 study session. Parker pointed out that the city’s strategic plan includes “Provide funding for a Senior Center permanent home.

“We believe all that is left is for this council to decide if this proposal meets the expectation of the line item in the 2022-23 strategic plan,” Parker said.

Asking city for start-up funds

Asked what he wants from the city, Parker responded, “Right now is $200,000 so we can get started. We’re looking for that spark, that first big piece. We need you to help us with the heavy lift. We’re just trying to get start-up capital to get this thing rolling.”

Coincidentally, the city budget includes $202,053 in a senior services fund.

The city gave money for a senior center at the Boys & Girls Club when it was built. The city required the facility to function for a certain number of years.

When it failed to reach that benchmark, the city got its money back. The city set the money aside for a future senior center, said City Administrator Katrina Knutson.

After start-up, Parker believes the facility would be revenue neutral.

“When the seniors are not present, it’s got a lot of revenue power,” Parker said. “Pickle ball courts, meeting space, banquets on weekends. We want to get started, but we don’t want it to be a constant drain. To get up and running and able to support itself would be our goal.”

Through his work, Hillyer has visited every senior center in Pierce, Kitsap and south King counties.

“I’ve got a good idea of what’s successful, what’s extraordinary, what’s not successful,” he said. “I think I’ve got a pretty good idea of what the senior community needs. This gives the opportunity to take care of the senior community as well as the rest of the community.”

Once a permanent senior center is built, members of the Soundview Drive facility could shift to it.