Reuse plan for Lakeville police station is questioned

  • Article by: JIM ADAMS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 7, 2011 - 10:13 PM

Several Lakeville City Council members doubt whether a $1.1 million remodeling of the vacant building could be done without raising taxes.

Looking for a way to avoid raising taxes while providing more space for Lakeville seniors and historical society members, the City Council has given staff 60 days to prepare a plan to raise nearly $300,000 needed to help remodel a vacant police station for the two groups.

That amount is the unfunded part of the estimated $1.1 million cost to renovate the station and demolish the small historical society building, said parks director Steve Michaud. He said the council directed him to develop a public information campaign, a timeline and a list of fundraising activities. If the council approves the plan in late June, the fundraising would begin, he said.

At least three council members have voiced skepticism about whether the city can afford to remodel the 17,000-square-foot building rather than sell it or reuse it for fire department office space or a city liquor store. So at a council workshop on April 25, members asked Michaud to determine if the seniors, historical society and community in general are likely to provide the needed money or renovation materials.

Michaud said the community donated most of the equipment in the existing senior center when he oversaw its construction in 1985. He thinks that could happen again. He said a recent senior survey showed strong support for moving into a renovated police station and some interest in helping pay for the move. He said the city surveyed about 200 senior citizens, a representative sample of the 600 Lakeville seniors who use the existing center. The center also has about 400 non-Lakeville members.

Michaud noted the 5,000-square-foot senior center, which is short space for its many activities, has raised $100,000 over the years for its next building, and that is part of the $822,000 available for the remodeling. The rest would come from selling the existing senior center for its recently appraised value of $345,000, and another $377,000 from a city building fund.

Mayor Mark Bellows said he thinks the police station is inadequate for present and future seniors, as that group continues to expand with baby boomers retiring. The most recent estimate by the American Community Survey of the U.S. Census Bureau is that Lakeville has 2,652 people over age 65, or 5 percent of the city's population. Bellows said those numbers could grow to 9,400 seniors by 2020.

"We have had no study defining what senior needs are. I want to see a detailed analysis or some kind of a feasibility study," Bellows said. He said senior residence buildings such as Highview Hills in Lakeville offer amenities seniors are seeking. Bellows said he would abstain from any decision on the station until a senior needs study is done.

He also suggested that seniors might be better served by leasing the recently closed Crystal Lake Elementary School, which has a gym and commercial kitchen. Or perhaps area churches could house various senior activities, he said.

Wally Potter, treasurer for the Lakeville Area Historical Society, worked with Michaud and an architect to draw up floor plans and cost estimates for the remodeled police station that were presented to the City Council. He said his group, which has $5,000 for the project, has about 100 members, many of whom are seniors.

The remodeled station would "absolutely fit the needs of both groups," said Potter, 76. "By taking down some walls and adding some doors we can get a very usable facility."

Lakeville Senior Center coordinator Linda Walter, 66, said as center activity planner and a senior herself, it's her job to know what seniors need, and they are not shy about telling her.

"That's how we got Spanish class, pickle ball and the biking club," she said.

She noted that some classes, including yoga and UCare aerobics, are maxed out in the existing center because its largest room, which holds about 30, is booked all week.

Walter said that senior housing, such as Highview Hills, serves different residential needs by offering services -- such as a beauty shop, meals and banking -- for which seniors have to pay.

She said holding activities at churches or other scattered sites would reduce cohesiveness, healthy interaction among seniors doing different activities and the ability to monitor seniors who have health issues.

"A senior center is a club, a home away from home to meet people and sit down and talk over coffee," Walter said. "It's where seniors come to see what's going on. ... It's a learning center and a resource center with educational activities."

Michaud noted that doing nothing also costs money, because the police station, senior and historical society buildings all need new roofs. The senior center also must spend $35,000 next year to upgrade its kitchen to meet state standards. The historical society, housed in a 3,000-square-foot former church rectory, needs $26,000 in heating system repairs, he said. Maintenance needs for the three buildings total $280,000, he said.

Ted Billy, 75, president of the Lakeville Senior Center board, said seniors he talks to like the idea of moving into the large police station. "It would improve our ability to handle bigger events," he said.

Addie Benjamin, 77, enjoys meeting people at the senior center, enrolling in needlework classes and singing in the choir.

"If you don't have some place like this to go, you end up without a social network after you retire," she said. Center activities offer "a really good way to do that."

Jim Adams • 952-707-9996

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