A senior center and housing facility is in the works in Skagway, and the group tasked with developing a plan is looking for funding. The project could cost about $7 million dollars. The question now is how much money the municipality is willing to commit.
On a recent rainy afternoon, Nola Lamken, Ginny Cochran and Michael Baish gathered in the Big Dippers building, which serves as a temporary senior center in the winter. The three friends are on the senior ad hoc committee, which three years ago started investigating what it would take to build a permanent senior center in Skagway.
“[Former mayor] Stan Selmer appointed us to be an ad hoc mayor’s committee to do what we’ve done,” committee chair Baish said. “And we think we’ve done a hell of a good job. And now it’s up to the assembly and town to say we’ll go here, we’ll go there, we’ll do this, we’ll do that.”
In the past year, the committee received a grant for pre-development assistance from the Foraker Group. That included a needs assessment and a financial feasibility study. The needs assessment found that the number of seniors in Skagway is expected to double within 10 years. Right now, there is no senior housing or permanent senior center in the community.
“Housing is limited here in the valley,” Baish said. “Especially for six months when cruise ships are coming and there’s great demand and an apartment can be worth triple what it is in the winter. And for people living on fixed income, it’s a real burden. And so there is a real need for senior housing.”
Lamken says she knows seniors who have left Skagway because they can’t find affordable housing.
“It has meant the difference in quite a few people,” she said. “There have been people who have to go outside away from friends and family.”
With an aging population and few existing amenities, the assessment did identify a need for senior services. The next step was to determine the scope and cost of the project. At a meeting in December, the committee received a feasibility study from their consultants. It estimates the total development cost for the senior center is $2.6 million. For seven senior apartments on top of the center, it’s $4.2 million. Built together, the senior center with housing would cost about $7 million. The building would be located at a site donated by the City on 11th and Broadway.
Here are a few more details from the study. The seven senior apartments would include three market-rate rentals and four reduced rent apartments for low-income seniors. The apartments could be self-sustaining. But the senior center would need to be subsidized each year at a cost between $66,000 and $120,000.
Now, the committee needs to find out where they can get funding. So, they’re going to the borough assembly.
“Before we go any further we need to find out what our funding potential is,” Baish said.
The senior center request is happening during a time when Skagway government officials are wringing their hands about the long list of expensive capital projects on the horizon. They include the public safety facility, a recreation center expansion, and renovations to State Street.
But the senior committee members say they’ve only heard positive things from borough officials so far. And, Ginny Cochran says:
“I’d like to remind the assembly members that we hope they will make it to become a senior citizen and they could take advantage of what we’re getting in place for them”
“We need a place,” Baish said. “We’re about the only small town in Alaska that does not have a senior facility.”
The borough assembly is set to discuss the senior center at a meeting Feb. 4.