Seniors rally for new centre

Dozens of seniors—a few armed with knitting needles—packed city council chambers Monday to push elected officials to expand Minoru Place Activity Centre instead of offering more “empty promises.”

“We identified the need for more space more than 10 years ago and we feel we’ve been getting the runaround ever since,” said Bill Sorenson, treasurer of Minoru Seniors Society, which helps operate the centre. “We feel we’ve been complacent long enough.”

Built in 1986, the centre is now “bursting at the seams,” said Sorenson, as the number of active seniors taking part in programs and fitness classes grows.

Five years ago city council’s parks and recreation committee vaulted a new seniors centre to the top of a priority list  of new recreation facilities. But Sorenson said the centre has now slipped behind needs not even identified when seniors first broached the topic of expansion.

According to staff, a new centre is  slated for 2017, ranking fifth in capital project priorities.

“No more empty promises. We want some action now,” said Sorenson. “Some of us would like to live to see this happen in our lifetime.”

Most seniors’ services are offered at the centre, which includes a full-service cafeteria, games room, woodworking shop, computer workstations, multi-purpose rooms and area for socializing, reading and card games. The city built the 16,000-square-foot facility after voters approved it in a 1981 referendum.

Jeff Day, the city’s project development and facility services general manager, said staff are in the process of planning a new facility. He acknowledged other “conflicting priorities” have pushed the project down on the list.

Chief administrative officer George Duncan told council that staff have now been instructed to no longer lower the project’s priority rank, adding staff will “very soon” present a new timeline for the city’s top capital projects.

City officials have yet to determine whether a new seniors centre would be an expansion, a complete rebuild or a radical redesign that incorporates seniors housing.

Each comes with its own challenges. A complete rebuild on the existing site would temporarily displace seniors programs, while an expansion is dependent on the future of the Minoru Aquatic Centre. The aging aquatic centre is scheduled to be replaced by 2014, and could be incorporated in the seniors centre design.

One thing is clear, according to Duncan: its location won’t change.

“It would be at the civic precinct site,” he said. “It would be in the direct vicinity of where it is now.”

Coun. Harold Steves suggested both facilities be rebuilt by utilizing the airspace above.

“This is one way to help pay for community recreation facilities that we do want.”

A 2007 city study of Richmond’s “older adults” found those over age 55 are the fastest growing age group in the city. The study noted baby boomers are becoming the next generation of older adults, and will continue to be active and place a high demand on services,

According to the last census information, a quarter of the city’s population is in that age group—43,600 people—a 26 per cent increase over 2001.

Richmond residents also have the highest life expectancy in Canada, living an average of 83.4 years—almost four years longer than the national average of 79.5.

Coun. Bill McNulty said a referendum might be in order for the fall election ballot. But Duncan said that isn’t necessary right now.

“Going to referendum or not going to referendum in November is not having any impact on the project scheduling or timeline,” he said.

On Monday city staff called for a staff referral for more information on plans for the centre, but without an expectation of time, a staff report might not come until a planned update in the new year.

City capital projects ranking

1. RCMP headquarters

2. Fire Hall No. 1

3. Minoru Aquatic Centre

4. City Centre Community Centre (Firbridge)

5. Minoru Place Activity Centre (now called Older Adults Activity Centre)

* According to city’s corporate facilities implementation plan

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