Center4Life Project Moving Forward, Slowly

by SC Publisher Shannen Hayes, photos by SC Associate Publisher Chuck Larsen

The Center4Life project will continue moving forward, but progress may slow as the city enters a comprehensive assessment of its recreation department and facilities, which includes the senior center. The evaluation is set to begin in February and estimated to take 8 to 10 months.

The former Sanibel Captiva Community Bank at 2475 Library Way.

In a workshop last week, general consensus among Sanibel City Council members was to start the assessment approved in January for $74,430, then look at using the existing footprint of the former Sanibel Captiva Community Bank building purchased by the city in December 2019 to be the new Center4Life home.

Mayor Holly Smith said the senior center is part of the city’s recreation department (with a FY2022 budget of $297,230). She said the comprehensive assessment will provide helpful information for moving forward with the project, such as gaining a better understanding of programming and the utilization of the “extremely expensive” Sanibel Recreation Center.

Vice Mayor Richard Johnson said the focus should be balance, fit and need. He also said the “right decision” should be made, not a “quick decision.”

The non-profit Island Seniors organization was formed in 1977 to coordinate activities designed for the senior population. Activities, arranged by volunteers, were held in homes. In 1991, the organization began discussions with the city and the recreation department about the need for a dedicated space.

The current Center 4 Life building and CHR offices at 2401 Library Way.

In March 1993, the city acquired the former Sanibel Library building at 2401 Library Way, along with the two adjacent parcels for a total of 1.3 acres. The acquisition established a central location for senior resident activities as the new Center4Life home.

The city later reached an agreement with Community Housing & Resources, the island’s affordable housing organization, to provide office space in a city-owned building. CHR and Center4Life have shared the 5,080 square-feet space at 2401 Library Way.

In 2020, Amy Nowacki Architect of Sanibel conducted an architectural review and analysis of the 4,340 square-feet former bank building at 2475 Library Way. Council was presented with two options from that study:

Option A is renovating the existing 4,340 square feet and adding 4,750 square feet to the single-story building with Center4Life on the east side and CHR offices on the west side. Preliminary cost was estimated at $1,987,500.

Option B includes renovating the existing footprint and adding a 6,978 square-feet second story with Center4Life occupying the first floor and CHR, along with “flex space,” on the second floor. Preliminary cost was estimated at $2,653,900.

The preliminary cost estimates do not include design costs, demolition of the current Center4Life building at 2401 Library Way or site development. The city has $3.1 million in a capital project governmental fund to complete the renovations, after repaying its general fund the nearly $1.9 million borrowed to purchase the bank building.

City Manager Dana Souza outlined in his memorandum the city’s adopted FY2022 budget includes $1,788,800 in capital expenditures for design and partial construction costs. And by Sept. 30, end of the fiscal year, there is estimated to be $1,267,749 remaining.

Council expressed the need for staying within budget. “We have to be proper stewards with our funds,” said Councilman John Henshaw. And Vice Mayor Johnson said it’s important the city live within its budget, but will be difficult to do with the rising cost of construction.

The Island Seniors did not participate in the 2020 study by Nowacki. Longtime Island Seniors Board Member Katie Reid created a modified rendering from Nowacki’s option B using only the building’s current square footage. She felt it was workable, even with CHR office space.

“This started as a need for a large multipurpose room,” said Reid. The group had to find larger spaces for potlucks, socials and their annual meeting. They also need more storage space, especially for their Trash and Treasures fundraiser donations, as well as outdoor activity space since COVID, she explained.

The Center4Life has been closed since March 2020 due to the pandemic and ventilation concerns. Since October 2021, limited programming has been held in the Osprey Room at the Sanibel Recreation Center.

In public comment at the workshop, some residents suggested rolling the Center4Life into the Sanibel Recreation Center. Resident Tommy Williams even proposed a new name, “Sanibel Recreation and Senior Center.”

But Reid said the group would not be in favor of moving into the Recreation Center. It’s two miles further than Library Way and they “don’t like the sterile atmosphere” of the recreation center.

Councilman Scott Crater said at the start of the workshop Island Seniors want a place to gather and don’t want to the Osprey Room. The current footprint of the bank building could be fine with a screened-in pavilion for outdoor activities. “I would be OK with the architect working with Island Seniors to work within the building’s footprint,” he added.

Community Services Director Keith Williams told council there could be work done by city staff while the comprehensive assessment is underway, “but the work is only as good as the ground rules.” He said the work would be lost if plans change.

Council agreed the 2401 Library Way building should be demolished as part of the project and vacating a portion of Library Way for a “campus plan” on the four properties was off the table. Souza suggested completing an appraisal on the Library Way properties, but council first wants to know the cost.

Formal action on direction for city staff from the workshop discussion will be taken in the council’s next meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 1 in MacKenzie Hall, 800 Dunlop Rd.

Smith said a complete assessment of all city facilities would be a conversation for the Tuesday meeting. “It’s a very important conversation,” she said.

Comments (2)

  1. So sorry that another “year” will be passing for Sanibel to have more time to ignore it’s seniors getting together. Many of us “Olsters” have left the island since there was really nowhere to meet for a “bring along lunch”, play cards, have a free rental library, annual thrift sale with donations from members, and a chat with a wonderful crew of ladies who “ran the place” . After all these months, I noticed that you now have decided to bring back the “hot dog Wednesdays” from the Senior Center to the Recreation Center. That was something we all enjoyed! Bea

  2. It is more than unfortunate that the city is once again delaying moving forward with a dedicated building for the Center4Life. Just a few short months ago every member of the council, and the mayor, all stated that plans would proceed for the renovation/replacement of the purchased bank building and that previously halted activities would resume. The city made good on part of that promise by restarting a very few activates at the rec center but even so waited until January of this year to restart the highly popular kayak trips due to concerns of unrelated people being less than 6 feet apart in an outdoor environment. I guess council members have not recently visited the farmers market held on city property. And now we must wait at least another year before any progress is made on past council decisions because of the actions of a very small but vocal group of naysayers questioning the need of dedicated gathering place for a city where 56% of the population is over 65 years of age. The group, led by Mr. Williams, likes to question any need at all for a dedicated facility given that membership has declined from over 800 to less than 200 and states that “covid has changed everything and we can’t operate like we used to”. My question to that statement would be, why? Given that the Center4Life has effectively been closed for two years that there are even 200 current members is amazing. A single room in the rec center is not an appropriate allocation of city resources for the senior population of Sanibel. Presumably the need for the Center4Life building was studied extensively three years ago before purchase of the bank building was completed. Are the results of that study now invalid? While there may be legitimate concerns for the utilization and costs associated with the rec center, penalizing the senior (and majority) population of Sanibel is not the solution to that problem. Yet another study and linking the Center 4Life to the issues at the rec center seems to me to be cover for a mayor and council that does not want to make hard decisions and live up to past commitments.

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