SOUTH OGDEN — The woman is blind but can see shadows.
“She comes in and does ceramics,” Karen Bingham said of the woman, one of her disabled clients who two or three times a month goes to the South Ogden Senior Center.
“Even though it takes her more time to finish something, it helps her develop hand and eye coordination,” said Bingham, coordinator of recreation, instructors and volunteers at the Roads to Independence nonprofit in Ogden.
Her client has been working on a set of salt and pepper shakers for a year and a half. But Bingham is worried she might not get to finish them.
That’s because South Ogden City is considering a proposal to subdivide the land where the senior center sits and sell the property for development.
Bingham, whose organization pays the senior center for access to the ceramics classes, said she was shocked to learn the center might be shut down.
The action would harm her disabled clients, seniors, and sexual assault victims who are helped by a nonprofit in an adjacent city building that would be torn down as well, she said.
“They have a moral obligation to the community,” Bingham said of city leaders.
CITY CONDUCTS SURVEY
City Manager Matthew Dixon said Wednesday the proposal “is still very much up in the air.”
The city council is scheduled to take up the plan Nov. 20. In the meantime, the city has been conducting a survey to gather reaction, which Dixon said will help the council in its deliberations.
He said about 200 people have responded to the survey so far.
The city has been looking at the potential for selling the buildings and the land for almost a year, as part of a review of all city programs and expenses. Dixon said the city would need to spend $217,000 on maintenance at the senior center and the old city hall in the next three years.
He said the mayor and council “are certainly very sensitive to any implications that South Ogden is anti-senior citizens,” Dixon said. “That makes a good story, but this is very much an issue of how much do you spend on a building that happens to serve seniors and where over time there has been … a lack of frequency of use.”
He said city officials are trying to be “good tax stewards, and at what point are there diminishing returns?”
“That sounds harsh,” he said, but even if the seniors programs remain viable, the city questions whether the building is. And even if the plan goes through, perhaps another site could be found for the seniors center.
EVOLVING SENIOR POPULATION
Weber Human Services operates the senior center. Executive Director Kevin Eastman said the city’s plan has sparked additional consideration by his agency of consolidations in aging services countywide.
“We are seeing a different trend,” Eastman said in an interview Wednesday. “People are living longer and are more active and are doing things themselves.”
Eastman said use has been declining in some of the county’s outlying senior centers, including South Ogden’s. The agency operates 11 senior centers in Weber County and one in Morgan.
WHS spends $319,000 annually on senior center programming countywide and $412,000 for meals at the centers, according to budget information provided by Eastman.
“The money gets so watered down and the needs grow,” he said. “We are taking this as an opportunity to see if the money is being used in the most effective ways. So we’re waiting to see what the city does and go from there.”
In an email later, Eastman added, “Consolidation and offering more opportunities of choice is going to have to be explored.” But, he said, “There is no plan to engage cities in discussions and force this upon seniors.”
Because South Ogden’s senior center was built in part with federal Community Development Block Grant funds and privately raised donations, Dixon said city staff has reviewed agreements to look for any barriers to selling the building, but has found nothing that would prevent it.
Dixon also responded to criticism that South Ogden did not give adequate notice of the potential sale.
He said state law allows cities to meet in closed session to discuss potential sale of property, and in this case it did so.
“Any time you contemplate selling publicly owned property, and once individuals are aware … all of a sudden, values charge,” Dixon said.
During the year, the city had the property appraised, and also notified tenants that changes may be in the wind, according to Dixon.
“We intentionally took this a step at a time,” he said. “There was no mal-intent to keep anyone in the dark, by any means.”
The city is working with the Ogden Police Department and the Ogden mayor’s office to try to help find a new location for the Northern Utah Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners nonprofit, which is housed in the old South Ogden city building next to the senior center.
For 13 years, the city has hosted NUSANE at a reduced rental rate. But the director, JeanLee Carver, said it was caught off guard by the planning commission’s consideration of a specific sale proposal last month and had made no plans to find a new location.
At Roads for Success, Bingham said she’s also disappointed about the crisis NUSANE is facing.
When someone is sexually assaulted in northern Utah, NUSANE’s specially trained nurses provide a quiet, confidential place for victims to be examined and for evidence to be collected.
“These women have suffered high trauma,” and it is wrong to threaten the service, Bingham said.
“They cannot take that place away from them,” she said. “The crimes cause PTSD, and doing this to them too is like throwing them in the garbage.”
At the senior center, more than 100 clients of Roads to Success have been served this fall, Bingham said.
Beyond the satisfaction of creating salt and pepper shakers, as her blind client has been doing, the senior center is “a quiet place where they can go,” and be with others, Bingham said.
“Social interaction is very important for them,” she said. “Many people with disabilities are very depressed.
“I think it’s about time for the city to step in and look at people instead of just money.”