by SC Publisher Shannen Hayes | photos by SC Associate Publisher Chuck Larsen
The message from Sanibel City Council was clear on Tuesday, May 4: Island Seniors will get their new home and a selection of programs will resume at the current Center4Life building.
Mayor Holly Smith said the Island Seniors organization is an intricate part of the island, where the average age is 66, and will remain that way as long as she is around. “You have a council that is very committed to doing the right and smart thing for the community,” she said.
Island Seniors board members voiced concern after the April City Council meeting when there was discussion of possibly housing the Sanibel Police Department in the current Center4Life building during its modernization project and moving senior programs to other locations, such as the Sanibel Community House or Sanibel Recreation Center.
There was also a light discussion in the April council meeting that the remaining $3.1 million earmarked to renovate the new Center4Life building at 2475 Library Way (formerly Sanibel Captiva Community Bank) could be used for the police department modernization project.
The board members described it as a “real shocker” and “feelings of betrayal” in an April 14 letter to council members. Several Island Seniors members also wrote to the council out of concern and spoke on Tuesday. Many of them were in favor of having a new senior center, as well as described the importance of resuming programs and activities.
The council agreed to proceed with a “soft” and safe reopening at the current Center4Life building, once a manger is hired, while renovations on the new building move forward.
Since the senior center has been closed for a little more than a year due to the pandemic, the soft reopening would most likely include non-physical activities such as book club. And Mayor Smith said city staff should work with the Island Seniors in selecting which programs to restart.
Council also agreed the city needs a contract with the Island Seniors, which is the only organization on city property without one, and to have a council liaison for better communication and collaboration.
When it comes to funding the Center4Life renovation and police department modernization projects, Mayor Smith said the city’s financial position is “very strong.” Finance Director Steve Chaipel said the city is retiring debt at roughly $3.5 million per year.
“When Mayor (Kevin) Ruane and our previous council worked on considering these projects, it was always looked at as going forward together… We knew we had the opportunity to do both of these projects and they will be done,” she said.
City staff will bring an action report on the Center4Life soft reopening to council in June.