As Skagway voters head to the polls Tuesday, they’ll decide the fate of a $6 million bond to fund a municipality-owned senior center and housing facility. The senior center has been in the works for years. In order to fund the project, Skagway residents might see their property taxes increase.
In February of 2015, a group of older Skagway residents gathered at the Presbyterian Church for senior lunch. They talked about a project they’d been brainstorming for a while: a senior center. Although, some weren’t so sure about the word ‘senior.’
“We don’t want it to be called a senior center, we want it to be a community center,” said Ginny Cochran
“When we get a place, for me it will be called the Geezer Palace,” said Nola Lamken.
A year and a half later, what Lamken calls the ‘Geezer Palace’ has dozens of documents backing it up. The project was selected for Foraker Group pre-development planning that included a market analysis, financial feasibility study and architectural renderings. A needs assessment pointed out that Skagway, like the rest of Alaska, has a rapidly aging population.
“But unlike any other similar town in Alaska, we have no senior center, no permanent senior center, and no affordable senior housing,” said senior ad hoc committee chair Michael Baish. “We’re unique in that aspect.”
Right now, Skagway seniors bounce around town to receive the limited services that are available. Senior lunches are provided at a church. In the winter, a daycare center serves as a temporary gathering place.
With studies and assessments complete, the senior committee approached the assembly early this year to ask for funding. Now, about eight months later, the assembly has proposed a way to pay for the project: a $6 million bond. The tentative plan is to pay for the bond debt with mill rate increases.
Borough staff say the bond would necessitate an increase of about 1.2 mills across service areas. That means, for example, a resident in service area 2 with $250,000 worth of property would pay about $250 more in taxes each year.
Members of the senior committee plan to apply for grants to lower some of the expense to the city. But before they can apply for grants, they need to show they have most of the funding secured. That’s where the bond comes in.
“They want to know it’s gonna get build before they’re gonna commit money to it, basically,” Baish said.
Baish says the project has already gained approval to apply for what’s called a Greater Opportunities for Affordable Living Grant with the Alaska Housing Finance Coporation.
The GOAL grant is an example of why the committee decided to incorporate housing into the senior center project. The seven apartments will make the project eligible for more grants than would be available for a stand-alone senior center.
In its current design, the facility at 11th and Broadway would be two stories and about 10,400 square feet. It would include a kitchen, dining area, manager’s office, and seven apartments.
As for who will get to live in those apartments, details are vague at this stage. Baish says the plan is to form a board to make those decisions.
“There will be a permanent board or a committee that the assembly and mayor will appoint that will determine the management and those particular issues,” Baish said.
He emphasizes the facility won’t just be a senior center, but a community center. He imagines the kind of activities that will happen there on a day-to-day basis.
“A lot of knitting, a lot of internet-ing, jigsaw puzzles, and basically a lot of conversation. And people telling their stories,” Baish said. “And to me, that’s the best part of this, is hearing people’s stories.”
At the polls on Tuesday, Skagway voters will decide whether a $6 million bond is the best way to make the so-called ‘Geezer Palace’, officially titled the ‘Skaguay Activity Center and Senior Housing’ project, come to life.