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Senior Center vans not in ADA compliance

The Senior Center Advisory Committee’s desire to purchase another van for the center may be impacted by the drastic difference in the new facility’s estimated cost and the lowest bid.
As leaders look for ways to cut costs and fill the $2 million gap, it seems money stowed away by the Senior Center over the years may now be designated toward the construction of the new facility.
According to documents passed out at the Senior Center Advisory Committee meeting on Aug. 28, the Senior Center has approximately $203,000 in CDs, much of which is set to mature this year.
The money was given to the facility by Washington County over the years.
“Since January 2007, somebody made the decision that half the money the county gives us goes into CDs earmarked for the new senior center and the other half goes into the Senior Center budget,” explained Mary Gearhart, a member of the Senior Center Advisory Committee and former town alderman.
Senior Center Director Joan Miller said she sent a note to Town Administrator Bob Browning in July letting him know the advisory committee had voted to buy another van with some of that money. She said she then met with Browning on July 29.
“He said that they had put (the money) in there to be used for furnishings for the new center,” Miller said. “That money might be needed to build the center. That’s why we can’t buy a van.”
A new, handicap-accessible van costs in the neighborhood of $65,000-$70,000, Miller noted.
Wherever the funding may come from, Senior Center Program Director Marcia Rountree said the new van is needed in order to provide handicap accessibility for all of the numerous field trips the center takes members on throughout the year.
“We’re required by law to make handicap accessible to any member,” Rountree said. “If someone were to approach us tomorrow about a trip available, we are not in compliance with Tennessee law according to (the Americans with Disabilities Act).”
In order to continue offering trips without such a van in the center’s possession, Rountree said she has instated earlier deadlines for the events to allow enough time to rent such a vehicle.
“They’re not available that quickly,” she explained. “We’re now revamping our calendar to where we are giving ourselves a week to 10-day window so we could accommodate someone.”
Rountree considers it a temporary solution to a permanent problem.
“We have an immediate need to resolve,” Rountree said. “We have to make sure they have the same accessibility just as we have to have accessibility to our building.”
But the building may not be meeting all the ADA requirements, either, according to Miller, who said the center’s front door is not handicap-accessible currently.
“I always thought we needed an automatic door,” she said. “Bob (Browning) and (Fire Chief Phil Fritts) both said that would be an easy fix, but it hasn’t been done yet.”
Miller also made claims that the design for the new senior center “is going to need to have a lot of tweaks” to conform to ADA standards, especially since federal funding is being used, in part, to build the new center.
Members of the Senior Center Advisory Committee agreed to hold off on making any decision on the van until more details regarding the money in CDs can be gathered.
Committee member Mike Ford also asked the group to delay buying a van until he pursued a “potential avenue” for getting one at less cost.