Construction of new senior center may start this year
By Kristen Swing
“We can’t do anything until we obtain loan money from Rural Development. That application is being reviewed,” said Bob Browning, town administrator. “It has to go into construction drawings and be bid. That is also being undertaken at this point.”
Browning expects the drawings to take another three or four months and approval on the loan to take at least that long, if not longer.
“Then the drawings have to be approved by Rural Development. Once they are approved, we can break ground,” Browning said. “It’s realistic to think we’ll be under construction by the end of this calendar year.”
The town is also awaiting a visit from the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency to check the new senior center site on East Main Street for possible bat activity.
“We got a letter from (U.S.) Fish and Wildlife indicating we might be impacting a breeding ground for Indiana bats,” Browning said. “My understanding is it is a standard form letter sent when there is any sort of bigger project going on.”
Browning said there is no indication whatsoever that the native species of bat is living or breeding on the property.
“It’s something we are addressing. It’s a little bit surprising and aggravating,” Browning said. “On the other hand, if you’re trying to protect a species that is struggling because of change in their environment due to urban development, then the logical thing to do is to go out and check on this.”
A TWRA officer is expected to conduct an assessment of the property this week.
“They breed in old scaling bark of oak trees. As far as we know, the trees associated with this are not on that property and it is not a problem,” Browning said. “Even if they were there, what you do is come up with a plan to work around them and not disrupt their breeding season.”
As construction plans continue, leaders are already considering whether the town will charge a membership fee to attend the new senior center once it opens.
“There is this ongoing issue of how you cover your operating expenses. It’s just one of those things where you’ve got to cover your costs,” Browning said. “It’s not on the table at this point, but to say it hasn’t been discussed isn’t exactly correct either.”
A fee might need to be imposed, Browning said, if Washington County were to cut from its budget its annual allotments to the senior center.
“You have to plan for something like that,” Browning said. “But the preference is for us not to charge a fee.”
For years the county gave $50,000 to the senior center each year. This year, that amount decreased to $45,000.
While the town has asked for $60,000 from the county for the upcoming Fiscal Year, county leaders have recommended the allocation remain at $45,000.
County commissioners voted in April to allocate $500,000 to the town for the construction of the center, a project estimated to cost somewhere around $2.5 million.