A crowd of senior citizens who attended last week's Fresno City Council meeting didn't even have time to unroll the banner they brought when the council agreed to get the ball rolling to find funding for a senior center — something Fresno doesn't have.
"I planned to go home and mope because we thought it would only be an informational meeting," said MariCarmen Navarro, one of the most oustpoken residents for the need of a senior center in the city. "This was such a nice surprise."
On Councilman Luis Chavez's suggestion, the council agreed to dedicate at least $100,000 for the PARCS (parks, after school, recreation and community services) department to put its senior center business plan into motion. Council President Esmeralda Soria said she'd like to see that number increase. The council also wants PARCS to seek more money from the state and federal governments.
Although the city does offer services for seniors, such as lunches and activities at community centers, the city does not have a designated senior center. Many programs are sponsored by faith groups, schools or private organizations.
Councilman Clint Olivier during the meeting pointed out that even tiny towns in Fresno County, such as Huron and Orange Cove, have senior centers.
"This is a big moment," Olivier said after Chavez's motion. "When this item appeared on the agenda, I had no idea my council colleagues would pick up the ball and run with it. This is a fantastic turn of events. This is very positive for our community."
The agenda called on PARCS staff to present its business plan for a senior center in a workshop. It was not an action item.
During the presentation, staff estimated an interim site would cost about $400,000 and said location is key. Some options include Manchester Center, where Fresno Unified already offers fitness classes for seniors, the Fresno-Madera Area Agency on Aging campus, Ted C. Wills Community Center or commercial real estate space.
A permanent space would cost anywhere from $7 million to $11 million depending on size and amenities, staff estimated. The annual operating cost is estimated at about $400,000. PARCS staff said ideally the site would include a swimming pool, gym and parking lot.
Dozens of senior citizens showed up to the council meeting with signs an art class made that read "Welcome to Fresno: Fifth largest city in CA, No senior activity center," "Fresno Senior Center Now," and "Amazon: $30 million. Senior Activity Center: ?"
Navarro said many who attended the meeting participate in the fitness classes at Manchester, which is a nice central location but not ideal because it's hard for some to reach the second floor when the elevators and escalators aren't working. Others showed up to the council meeting after news about the agenda item spread by word of mouth.
Navarro and her friends were impressed by the business plan the PARCS staff presented.
"We really thought it would be informational, and they'd pass the potato," she said.