Snohomish seniors seek a larger center

SNOHOMISH — Senior citizens here would like a bigger, better home away from home.

For more than a decade, they have played pinochle and bridge in a 1,800-square-foot converted house.

Though adequate at its inception, the Snohomish Senior Center can get downright cozy now that the organization has more than 200 members.

That’s why the seniors, with help from the city, have come up with a proposal for a new senior center — one with 5,000 square feet of space and a commercial-sized kitchen, along with plenty of bingo and movie-watching space.

But the seniors’ dream for a bigger center has its share of complications.

Along with fund-raising, the seniors and the city will have to tackle a recurring land-use issue for that particular spot off Cypress Avenue by the Pilchuck River. The parcel where the center now sits is a former pioneer cemetery where some of Snohomish’s earliest residents were buried until the early 1900s.

When the state built a highway through the area in the 1940s, it moved more than 100 remains and headstones to the nearby Grand Army of the Republic Cemetery, city manager Larry Bauman said. However, the city later found that not all of the cemetery’s graves had been relocated.

Court documents say one known grave remains, and there could up to 30 graves remaining.

The ancestors of several pioneers sued the city, and in the late 1990s a Snohomish County Superior Court judge ruled that the city must eventually move toward decertifying the cemetery.

Building a new senior center would provide an opportunity to do that.

"We need to complete an archaeological survey of the property," Bauman said. "We’ve done that for everything except the parking lot."

Bauman said the site is also of interest to local tribes, as early American Indians also may have been buried there. He said the city would like to provide space for a monument to signify the importance of the land in local tribal history.

The senior center expansion could have a high price tag because of the archaeological work that still needs to be done, he said.

"None of these issues are insurmountable obstacles," Bauman said. "It’s just a matter of doing the work to determine if there are further remains, and if there are, determining how to relocate and reinter them … in the most appropriate and sensitive way possible."

Finding enough money for a new senior center also may prove a challenge, although city leaders and seniors remain optimistic and hope that grants will pay for most of it.

The Snohomish Senior Center has applied for an $800,000 community development block grant from the county.

The proposed building is expected to cost about $600,000, and housing for seniors would be built separately. The rest of the cost would be primarily to make the land ready for a new building and possibly to hire a full-time director.

Snohomish should hear early next year about the grant.

"If we miss on it, we’re going to turn right around and try some other ideas," said John Hager, first vice president for the Snohomish Senior Center board of directors. "These people deserve a decent facility."

In the little house-turned-senior center, the bingo machine is right next to the new 51-inch television, which is right next to the new poker table, which is right next to a couch and other seating. The place is rather crowded even without people in it, so it’s not hard to imagine what potluck Tuesdays or bridge Mondays must be like.

"We don’t have the space or the facilities to put on big dinners," said Bill Huested, the center’s volunteer director. "The new place would be sufficient for the next 20 years, without a shadow of a doubt."

Huested said if he, the board of directors, the city and the seniors can guide this project through "the mine fields," it would make a world of difference to a lot of older folks in the area.

"It provides us with a new life," Huested said. "A life where there’s something to look forward to other than the inane drudgery of living alone. It’s probably 75 percent of the social life of our members. And that may be conservative."

Reporter Jennifer Warnick: 425-339-3429 or

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