Seniors Hoping for New Activities and Gathering Center

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CEDAR RAPIDS — Seniors in Cedar Rapids are getting restless.

After the Floods of 2008, they lost the Witwer Senior Center in the central business district. The replacement, at the Ecumenical Center and Green Square Meals site at 605 Second Ave. SE doesn’t compare, with 2,500 square feet of shared space to 12,000 square feet before.

"A city this size should have a something," said a woman at a recent AARP chapter meeting in Cedar Rapids.

"I’m looking forward to having a place to go," said a retired man. "To talk to people. To hash things out."

"I have friends in Iowa City," a woman said. "I know what they have down there and what we have here. It’s pathetic."

Myrt Bowers, Associate Executive Director, Witwer Center Healthy Lifestyle Programs, Aging Services Inc., assured the nearly two-dozen seniors she’s working on it. She explained a proposal to rehabilitate the former Novak Heating & Air Conditioning building in Czech Village. OPN Architects, Inc., is drawing up plans and estimating costs. Once that’s done, information will be released at a public forum.

The seniors wait.

Witwer had temporary quarters at Washington High School and at the People’s Church (since razed) before settling into the present location. Myrt has searched tirelessly for a permanent home. A building in the New Bohemia district was too small. A plan to locate in a new Intermodal facility downtown died along with that project. Two other vacant buildings had problems — one was too big, the other too damaged in the flood.

The Novak building appears to be the best option. Its 8,000 square feet would feature room for wellness and exercise, music and dance, dining and relaxing.

The original Witwer Senior Center opened 31 years ago. Linn County provided the facility, maintenance and utilities until the flood. And, for good reason.

Thousands of folks used the center. In fact, 1,900 unduplicated people participated in Witwer Senior Center programs in 2012, despite them being at several locations. The census showed the country’s older residents increased 15.8 percent to 37,000. That’s projected to grow. And these people want not only longer lives but increased quality to those lives.

Myrt said county and city officials have verbally supported a center. Lu Barron, a county supervisor, committed $5,000 to this recent study. But, no financial commitments have been made.

"If they want to be a Blue (Zone) city, they’ve got to have a senior center," said Bob Ackerson who acquired 300 signatures on a petition for a new senior center he circulated at a couple of area grocery stores.

Myrt is optimistic that fundraising and local government entities will make it happen.

"We’re going to have a three-star center," she said. "No, we’re going to have a five-star. I’ve been to a number of senior centers. I know what it takes."

Seniors are hopeful.

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