From 10,000 feet, it is easy to envision Oak Ridge moving toward a future that incorporates outdoor sport venues, healthy industries, walking paths, safe and revitalized neighborhoods, jobs for the residents , and wide-ranging lifestyle amenities.
The leadership difficulties, however, are not at the 10,000 foot level. There are several schools of leadership directions here but they aren’t talking with each other much better than Congress. I was not one of the council elected at the 10,000 foot level either. I was elected at ground level where residents have become discouraged with how often things don’t make sense, don’t add up, or seem to be simply obscure. Or, too often, how things are same ol’, same ol’: doing what we’ve “always done” and expecting a better result.
The senior center debate is one of the issues on which many of the people who elected me wanted real answers and progress. Council did promise a new senior center. The city staff deemed the Wildcat Den building to be unfit and irremediable for continued use. Plans were in the works to build a new senior center on a portion of Bissell Park adjacent to the existing city buildings and simultaneously updating the library. In the midst of those plans, a developer came to the city with a proposition to redevelop the mall and have the city participate by moving some of its functions to new quarters in the Turnpike end of the rebuild.
Some say that when the citizens called for a referendum on the bond issue, many of the leaders of that movement were members or users of the senior center. Some people say that when the referendum rejected the deal and the developer pulled out, city staff blamed seniors. I don’t know about that. That falls in the realm of myth and things obscure.
What I do know is that the “temporary” quarters for the senior center activities have been neither inviting nor adequate. It has certainly seemed to me that for a community which boasts so many educational and cultural venues of excellence, we have neglected a resource which once did a much better job of serving the needs of many of our esteemed elders. A former council DID promise a new and improved senior center. The council we have now , except Mr. Hope who is new, promised a new senior center.
It bothers me to hear people question the need or usefulness. Many Oak Ridge seniors are economically and socially well fixed. Some of them see no need for a “center” specific to seniors. Many young people seem unable to understand why they should take on the debt, regardless how large or small, for a facility they don’t ever expect to use. I hear plans, while construction of a new building takes place, to scatter the seniors who have continued to use the temporary space. What I see are opportunities to include more citizens both socially and as resources, opportunities being lost because the facilities are inadequate.
Dr. Barbara Gunn has written for local media of the many reasons why senior centers serve a community and provide a return on investment. I am afraid that the vision of a $15,000 assessment is already pointed at being too narrow. So when the public hearings get scheduled, I hope that folks will bring ideas and examples of ways the former center here and excellent ones elsewhere can serve the community’s needs and help build its future. I will probably not need the center as it currently is conceived. I surely would like to envision wanting to be there. Wouldn’t it be useful to have a center that included flexible, inviting meeting rooms and secure storage for organizational activities? Wouldn’t it be nice to have a place that felt like having a reunion or a 90th birthday party? Wouldn’t it be great to have new technology classes and old skills and crafts classes (where younger people could come learn, too?) Wouldn’t it be great to have a place that was easy for people to get in and out of safely, to park easily?
I am delighted to hear Mr. Beehan acknowledge that Council promised. Council did. This council did and the one before this did and the one before that did, too. Wouldn’t it be great if we thought things through before we made promises and kept the promises we made?