A couple of weeks ago I received an e-mail from a resident of Apple Valley (Richard) who, along with his wife, has been active with the senior center and was a little disappointed in the actions of the Apple Valley City Council in their choice to tear down and then rebuild an entirely new senior center in town.
The new senior center will be about twice as large, cost the taxpayers (as part of the taxpayer approved park improvement bond referendum) $4.5 million, and will be “green”. It is currently being constructed on exactly the same site as its predecessor and will include such great “green” features as a living roof which will be accessible to the public. It will also offer one large multipurpose room, a computer classroom, a library, lounges, card, craft, and hobby rooms as well. Sounds great, right?
Well, according to Richard this new building just really isn’t necessary as the old one functioned perfectly well for the needs of the senior citizens who used it every day. He was most concerned with the high building costs which during the current economic downturn should have really been considered more deeply than they were. While I generally agree with Richard’s sentiment and I believe that cost saving could have been a higher priority with this structure, the Apple Valley taxpayers did approve the referendum and I will not argue much against that.
Richard said that he generally stops in on Tuesdays for a couple of hours while drinking coffee and picking up free bread. After some friendly chatting with other seniors, including friends of his that he generally meets up with once a week, he leaves and goes about his day elsewhere including trips via mass transit to the Mall of America and elsewhere. One of Richard’s biggest problems with the new senior center is that he believes that the new building and its amenities may possibly cause the membership rate to go up from the current price of $12 a year/person, one which he finds quite reasonable, to something higher and not worth the additional funds. According to Richard, the yearly fee covers coffee, a monthly newsletter announcing upcoming activities, access to computers and genealogy.com, as well as free “nearly expired” bread and sweets on Tuesday. I took a look at the offerings for seniors through the Apple Valley Senior Center and while many activities are free, some are not such as catered lunches like the one coming up in on January 20th. Richard believes that if the rate raises much higher that the higher senior population numbers won’t help to fill the much larger building because people just won’t be willing to spend the money to participate. He states that there are usually 10 to 20 people utilizing the senior center at any given time and it would appear that even if the population quadrupled, there would have been plenty of room in the old building so why the need for something quite a bit larger and so very expensive?
Even though Richard has issues with the new building, it would seem that the Apple Valley City Council was only really concerned about possible parking issues that may never even come about. During the meeting when the senior center plans were being approved by the city council, the biggest point of contention seemed to be about the mere possibility of parking issues when the senior citizen population grew to the point where the size of this building’s current parking might be maxed out. A lengthy discussion ensued with talk of the option of removing one of the sports fields nearby to offer more parking to the center. There are plenty of adjacent and nearby lots but this was considered a third and final step only to be used in the most dire of circumstance (as dire as parking issues could be I suppose). As it currently stands, Apple Valley will be in the top 10 cities for the number of athletic fields available to youth for recreation. Based on the population projections provided by Randy Johnson in the Apple Valley Parks and Rec Department (they were originally provided by the Dakota County Office of Planning and Analysis), in 2020 when the senior citizen population is projected to be just over 4x what it is now, the Apple Valley City Council can concern themselves with the ridiculousness of removing a field for a youth population which will probably be lower than it is currently.
Aside from the stupidity of the parking argument and Richard’s apprehension over the necessity of the larger structure, my biggest complaint about the new senior center isn’t the cost or the stupid “green” facilities, but it’s the simple fact that it was rebuilt exactly where it was located previously. This was just poor planning on Apple Valley’s part for several reasons:
1. It is located no where near the location of the recently approved (and much debated) CDA housing for seniors. If you’re going to be putting a large group of senior citizens in a particular area and you have land to build on around it (remember that stupid liquor store you built nearby?) you might want to consider putting a senior center there instead of clear across town.
2. No direct mass transit options available. If you want to be “green” Apple Valley City Council, why not start at the most basic level: mass transportation? If you had placed this nearer to the CDA senior housing, seniors would have been able to take advantage of the newly constructed transit station there and it would have been a much shorter hike to their center than where it is currently located. The current location requires that seniors either take several transfers via the Apple Valley Transit Station and still walk several blocks to the center or they pay the high rates for DARTS transportation which can run upwards of $4 each way during peak times which is more than MVTA bus fares during the same times!
3. The senior center is being rebuilt no where near the “walkable downtown” that Apple Valley’s city council considers so very important to its vibrant future. With all the high density and inexpensive housing in that area which require minimal (if any) self-maintenance, wouldn’t it make sense to place a senior center within a stone’s throw from there if the Cobblestone CDA area wasn’t viable?
While Richard and his wife walk about two miles at least 3x a week, they generally drive to the center or ride their bikes. I honestly believe that if the city council and planners had taken the time to consider the importance and “greenness” of mass transit options this entire parking issue would be moot and would allow this center to be even more accessible than ever before. Richard joked with me in one of our e-mail conversations that he fears that perhaps they will install parking meters to deter people from driving. Perhaps that would not only keep seniors from driving but it could definitely add more money into the city’s coffers in meter revenue and fines!
The new Apple Valley Senior Center is slated to open in June of 2009 and is located at 14601 Hayes Road. If you’re a senior or you’re just an interested citizen, you can check out the building’s progress in person. Just be sure you walk or ride your bike as the parking lot may just be full ;-)
Are you an Apple Valley resident who utilized the old senior center? What do you think of the new facility going up and are you concerned about your fees increasing? Perhaps you’re just a resident who is interested in how your money is being spent. What do you think of the new senior center? Do you agree that the “greenness” of the building is undermined by the simple fact that mass transit was ignored during the planning? Whatever you feel, comment on I’m really interested in hearing what you have to say.