Jackson County Board on Aging, Inc. (JCBOA) Activities/Marketing Director, Lissa Warrens, says things seem to be going well in the non-profit group’s attempt to secure a 0.5-mill, five-year levy to construct a new Jackson County Senior Citizens Center on Acy Avenue in Jackson and to perform capital improvements to the existing centers in Wellston and Oak Hill.

The levy option will be decided during the Primary Election on Tuesday, May 4, though early voting has been underway since April 6.

Warrens sat down with The Telegram recently at the current Jackson County Senior Citizens Center on Mound Street in Jackson to discuss some of the biggest issues plaguing that site, which was constructed in 1937, and to make another appeal to the public just days ahead of election day. The previous evening, Warrens said she and other JCBOA representatives had spoken to a group of about 30 senior citizens in the City of Wellston about some of their concerns, one of which being that the construction of a new Jackson County Senior Citizens Center would mean the closure of the Wellston and Oak Hill centers.

Just as she and fellow JCBOA representatives William C. Martin and Jane Leach said during a recent pitch to Wellston City Council, that is not the case.

“We want to assure everyone that the Jackson, Wellston and Oak Hill centers are all one,” Warrens stated during the April 15 Wellston Council meeting. “There’s no chance that the Wellston and Oak Hill centers will be shut down due to this new center that we’re wanting to build. Those two sites are actually in the levy’s language to receive capital improvements over the levy’s life.”

Regarding specific improvements planned for these two sites (if the levy passes), information handed out by JCBOA representatives during that same April 15 meeting state the Wellston site is set to receive new flooring in the dining room, fresh paint in the gathering room, fresh paint in the foyer, an additional dishwasher in the kitchen, and a small shelter house in the back with a swing.

At the Oak Hill Center, the group hopes to place new stone in the parking lot, look into replacing the siding on the house, install new windows, put a new roof on the dining room, install new gutters on the dining room building, add a dishwasher in the kitchen, remove the old red building outside the dining room, repair the cover to the outside basement entrance, repair the outside steps, and replace some entrance doors.

Just repairing the central JCBOA hub on Mound Street in Jackson, however, would prove to be far too costly given the laundry list of problems. During the interview, Warrens pointed to the fact that the center sits on a floodplain and has experienced numerous floods, only has one ramp, has very limited space in the kitchen and dining room areas (to the point that freezers and coolers are being stored in the dining room area and even in offices), has only one single-occupancy handicapped-accessible restroom (with the other restroom facilities both being located downstairs), is experiencing large cracks in some of the interior walls due to foundation settling, and so on.

Overall, she described the site as not being “senior-citizen friendly,” which should come as no surprise, as it was constructed for schoolchildren.

“It’s hard for two people to pass in the halls,” Warrens said. “We need more room for walkers, wheelchairs, etc. This building was meant for kids.”

In the cramped quarters of the site’s kitchen, the staff produces all the meals for the county’s seniors, whether congregate meals or home delivery, which equals 593 hot meals and 263 frozen meals a week, for a total of 856 meals. On average, the center produces 55,000 meals annually. The group has four home delivery vans on the road Monday through Thursday and drives approximately 123,000 miles annually providing transportation services to the county’s elderly (doctor’s appointments, trips to the grocery store, etc.).

Various activities are offered at the respective sites as well. Warrens explained that art class, for instance, are offered in Jackson and Oak Hill, while the seniors at the Wellston center have not expressed interest in such an activity. When all the seniors from all the centers join together for events such as the annual Senior Citizens Day, Warrens says it becomes necessary to rent a larger facility to accommodate the up to 250 or more that take part, a problem that would be solved with a new center. What’s more, she says the JCBOA group hopes to make these types of gatherings more frequent at the proposed new site.

“We usually have to go to the Canter’s Cave 4-H Building for events like that,” she said. “None of our centers can hold that many people, and they really enjoy getting together. Senior Citizens Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas, these are wonderful events, and when we get the new center, we want to do these types of special events once a month or so.”

Currently, Warrens said there simply aren’t many places for Jackson County senior citizens to go for activities and/or entertainment, stating many folks go to Jackson’s Walmart to walk laps.

“When we open up our new center and dining facility, we’re going to let them know they can walk laps anytime,” she stated. “We’ll tell them how many laps equal what distance. That’s a more secure place to walk. We want people to feel safe and have space.”

She added that there has been interest expressed in events like euchre tournaments as well, which could easily be accommodated in a larger, centralized facility.

If approved, the levy would generate roughly $1.6 million over its five-year lifespan, which would cover close to half of the estimated $3.6 million needed to construct the new 12,000-square-foot center across from the Red Roof Inn on Acy Avenue in Jackson. Warrens said the JCBOA would not seek a renewal on the levy after that five-year stint.

“Our plan for this levy is for it to be a one-time shot – five years and it’s done,” she told The Telegram. “Then, hopefully we will never have to come to the community again.”

As for the remaining funding needed to construct the new facility, the group hopes to obtain a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) loan with a low interest rate and up to 40 years to pay back; however, Warrens says the levy needs to be passed in order to act as security for the USDA loan.

To the voters of Jackson County, Warrens first gave thanks for the JCBOA’s two current operational levies, both of which are 0.5 mills for a period of five years.

“We are so blessed that they have already given us the two operating levies,” she said. “We live in a wonderful county. There are some giving, caring people here. I have friends that live in other areas and they are amazed by the amount of money we can raise with our fundraisers, because people here care.”

That aside though, Warrens also wanted to share with the voters the importance of the JCBOA’s services for generations past, present and future.

“This affects not only people when they get older, but their parents and grandparents,” Warrens said. “Maybe right now you don’t need any services from us, but down the road, you may, and we need to be able to keep providing these services. Remember, for everyone you know you think has family to help them, there are 10 that don’t.”

For some, Warrens concluded, asking for help is not easy.

“There’s a lot of pride,” she said. “So, we try to reassure them and let them know – this is yours, this is for you. You’ve worked your whole life and we’re here to help with whatever you need help with.”