Seniors in Skagway make up about 15 percent of the population, and many live there year-round. Right now, there’s a gathering space for them that’s only open in the winter, and there is no designated senior housing.
An ad hoc committee is making progress in its effort to change that. That work stalled last year when they collaborated with an architect but couldn’t agree on a design.
Now, a group of organizations including the Rasmuson Foundation and Foraker Group is providing free consulting to develop a plan for the new senior facility.
There were about ten people gathered at the Presbyterian Church on Friday for senior lunch. The fact that this lunch is served in a location blocks away from the current senior center, which doesn’t have a full service kitchen, is one reason for a new facility. A facility the seniors here say they want to call the “Geezer Palace.”
“We don’t want it to be called a senior center, we want it to be a community center. People who are seniors don’t like that word,” said Ginny Cochran.
“That’s why I’m calling it the Geezers Palace,” said Nola Lamken.
The idea for a “mature adults” center has been in the works for a while. In 2013, the Skagway Assembly voted to donate a piece of land for the center to be built on.
“Our goal was to have a new building on the old clinic site, which is at Broadway and 11th, to house the center and the meals and some independent housing apartments,” Cochran said.
Right now, a building up on 23rd and Main serves as the Little Dippers Daycare in the summer and the Big Dippers senior center in the winter. It draws about six people a day. With a facility that’s more centrally located, with lunch served on-site, Cochran thinks more people would show up.
The group hopes an improved facility would make seniors less isolated. Shirley Hunz says in the winter, some people don’t get out of their homes much.
“You can get yourself locked up in this little warm cocoon and you don’t go anywhere and you’re not with other people,” Hunz said. “That’s important at any age but especially when you’re older – to keep in touch with other people, don’t’ just sit there by yourself all the time.”
As the seniors finished up their lunch at the church, assembly member and ad hoc committee liason Gary Hanson waited at the Skagway ferry terminal for two out-of-town consultants. He explained what the committee envisions in a new facility.
“About a 70-by-70 foot building would fit nicely there,” he said. “Two stories with apartment upstairs and of course we’d have to have an elevator. Then downstairs would be a large meeting hall with small rooms off to the side. The larger room would also be the lunch room. There would an atrium with plants…and a full-service kitchen.”
The two consultants he’s waiting on are going to size up whether that is the best plan. And if it is, they’ll give advice on how to make it sustainable.
Barbara Sheinberg is from Juneau-based Sheinberg Associates. She will assess how great the need is for a senior living facility in Skagway.
“[I’ll] look at the current situation, needs and desires, gaps, and put that information together to feed into what Martha and Foraker group is doing,” Sheinberg said.
Martha Shoenthal is a project manager for the Foraker Group. She’s going to help develop a plan and find funding.
“Because I’m essentially a disinterested third party, I have a very wide-ranging brief and ask many, many, many questions,” Sheonthal said. “I’ll get into the financing, I’ll get into the operations, I’ll oversee design, construction cost estimating, operating cost estimating. The whole deal.”
Shoenthal says the consulting and planning process could take six to nine months.
It could be a few years before the dream of the Geezer Palace is realized, but Hanson says it feels like they’ve taken a huge step forward.