Highland seniors could have their own facility as early as this summer, according to City Manager Mark Latham.
"We want to provide a facility for senior citizens that they own themselves," Latham said.
The city will apply for community development block grant from Madison County to help offset the cost of building a new senior citizens center. As part of the application process for the grant, the city was required to host a public hearing. That happened Monday morning at City Hall.
During the hearing, Latham said a design for the building has yet to be drawn, but the city is in the process of looking for an architect. The city is also working with Elmer Emig, president of the Weinheimer Senior Citizens Club, to develop a snapshot of how the building might look.
Current ideas are that the center will be a wood structured building, with about 4,600 square feet, according to Latham. He also said the city plans to provide additional parking that is close to the building for easy access.
During the hearing, Emig said the plan is to have one large room for banquets and dances, as well as a kitchen. Emig hopes the center will also include other, separate rooms to be used for meetings and activities, like pool, card games and bingo. The possibility of a shuffle board is also in the cards, according to Emig.
"I think we are going to be able to keep the seniors more active," Emig said.
To minimize project costs, Latham said the city has decided to build the center on city-owned property, on the western side of the Korte Recreation Center.
Right now, Latham estimates the project will cost about $400,000. The county grant would be for a maximum of $100,000.
Why is it needed?
Currently, local seniors utilize the Weinheimer Community Center, located at 1100 Main St. in Highland.
"They have outgrown it, and they really need their own facility — where they can call it their own," Latham said.
The Weinheimer, which was built in 1952, provides many challenges for the city's silver-aged population, according to Emig. The first of those issues is that the facility does not have the handicap accessibility that seniors need. The building has many steps and areas that are hard to access by wheelchair, Emig said, and the risk of navigating the building is deterring seniors from attending club meetings.
"Some of our seniors are falling," Emig said.
Aside from handicap accessibility, the center also needs other improvements for the seniors to be comfortable.
Beverly Strackeljahn said she is excited about having a new heating system.
"We won't have to put our coats on to play bingo," Strackeljahn said.
Latham said that when the Weinheimer was first built, the majority of its use was meant to be for seniors. However, over the years, youth activities have started to take over the building. Senior club activities are also confined to specific hours, due to its shared-use, according to Emig. Don Scheimer said this is why he would like a new center.
"It would be nice to have a place where we can go where we don't have to worry about kids knocking us over," Scheimer said.
Many seniors who attended the hearing also voiced that they think the money spent by different groups in the community has not focused much on the seniors. Multiple attending citizens used the city's new dog park as an example.
"If the city can have a dog park, why can't they have a center for the senior citizens," Leatha Apken said.
Charles Strackeljahn agreed.
"When dogs become more important than people, something is wrong," he said.
Emig and Latham both said they hope the center ultimately serve the greater Highland area, not just city residents. Emig said the center would be a great investment for public as a whole.
"Because everyone is going to be a senior citizen," he said.