Arlene Petro sips coffee while people lineup for lunch at the Lake Stevens Senior Center on Wednesday, April 12, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Arlene Petro sips coffee while people lineup for lunch at the Lake Stevens Senior Center on Wednesday, April 12, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Cramped and ‘getting nowhere,’ Lake Stevens Senior Center seeks new home

Seniors sit shoulder to shoulder at the center on Soper Hill Road. The search is on to figure out the next step.

LAKE STEVENS — The main room of the Lake Stevens Senior Center is small, but it was bustling with activity midday last Wednesday as local seniors filed in for lunch. President of the board, Jerry Stumbaugh, made announcements before food was served.

Knowing a reporter was present, Stumbaugh asked the group if the center had outgrown the building. He was met with a resounding “Yes!” from the room.

Figuring out what to do about that will be more difficult than answering that question.

The senior center is searching for a new building.

The current facility at 2302 Soper Hill Road has long been too small to accommodate the crowds it hosts at its biweekly lunches.

The city purchased and upgraded the building with grants from the county and state. The center leased the property from the city at $1 per year for 25 years, a deal that will end in 2034.

Though that may seem like a long way away, overcrowding at the center makes moving into a bigger space sooner a pressing concern.

Though the building’s maximum occupancy is 70, groups smaller than that have to put up with close quarters. Currently, around 50 people attend lunches on Wednesdays and Fridays at the senior center. Pre-pandemic, that number was more like 90. During lockdown, the building was shuttered and served drive-thru meals instead.

“It was unfortunate, but people still came, because they need the meal,” volunteer Wilma Daniels said. “There are a lot of seniors that live on Social Security only.”

The Lake Stevens Senior Center on Friday, April 7, 2023 in Lake Stevens, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

The Lake Stevens Senior Center on Friday, April 7, 2023 in Lake Stevens, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Even with reduced membership, there is not enough space in the 2,700-square-foot building to fit lunch attendees comfortably. At the recent lunch, diners sat shoulder to shoulder at tables with narrow aisles in between, making navigating around them difficult.

The center receives funds from the county and state, along with donations. This year they received $30,000 from the city and $15,000 from the county, with another $50,000 expected from the county. They also received around $2,500 in donations, around $2,700 in membership dues and almost $5,000 in program fees.

Stumbaugh said he’s met many times with the city to discuss moving options. He feels they’ve been receptive.

The “mayor and I … we’ve always gotten along,” he said. “He’s willing to sit down and talk with me.”

Figuring out next steps is difficult, however, because the center does not have money to spare. Stumbaugh asked the state for a $12 million grant in 2018 to purchase a new property and build on it. That grant was denied.

At one point, the board hoped to move into the planned civic center on the Chapel Hill land the city bought in 2016. Those hopes were scuppered when the city abandoned that plan in 2022 due to financial concerns.

“We’re just grasping at everything, it seems like, and getting nowhere,” Stumbaugh said.

Mary O’Connor, center, laughs while chatting with people while they grab lunch at the Lake Stevens Senior Center on Wednesday, April 12, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Mary O’Connor, center, laughs while chatting with people while they grab lunch at the Lake Stevens Senior Center on Wednesday, April 12, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

He’d like to see the county or state send money to the city earmarked for the senior center. One possible source of those funds is the money given to state and local governments by the American Rescue Plan Act to aid in pandemic recovery.

Mayor Brett Gailey said in an interview the city is prioritizing building a new Lake Stevens Historical Museum, as that project is further along, but the senior center will be the next focus. He was unsure, however, that a new building could be completely funded by the city and said he would like to see citizens donate to the center.

The mayor said moving the senior center into the city-owned building at 2211 Grade Road, formerly a police station and now being used as a temporary library location, is a possibility when the library vacates. He also suggested an alternate course of action: that a new building be built on the center’s current property.

For that to happen, Stumbaugh said, the property would need some work. Currently that land sits on a septic system that can’t be built on. Building a larger structure on the property would mean sacrificing the parking lot, Stumbaugh said, as there wouldn’t be enough room on the land that wasn’t above the septic system.

Until the city installs a sewer line on the street, Stumbaugh said, “there is no sense even thinking about trying to put something on there.”

People enjoy lunch at the Lake Stevens Senior Center on Wednesday, April 12, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

People enjoy lunch at the Lake Stevens Senior Center on Wednesday, April 12, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

The mayor said a sewer line is not far off and one will be installed pending further construction in that area.

As for getting more funds through donations, Stumbaugh is open to that possibility. He is willing to “knock on doors” to get people to donate. Getting money that way is difficult, though.

The center does not charge for the lunches it serves twice a week. There is a suggested donation of $4 for members and $5 for non-members.

Despite the challenges presented by the close quarters, members love the center. Carol Murphy, who was attending lunch at the center last Wednesday, said the center should have a bigger facility “but not humongous,” so it doesn’t lose its intimate atmosphere.

Murphy visited other senior centers and found people there “cliquey.” Not here, she said.

At the Lake Stevens Senior Center, Murphy said, people call if you’re missing.

Sophia Gates: 425-339-3035; sophia.gates@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @SophiaSGates.

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