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Senior Center switch explored

The Perham City Council is considering a new home for the Senior Center.

Though no final decisions have been made, the council narrowed down a possible location at the former, vacant hospital building, which is being marketed to area businesses and organizations.

The Senior Center is currently located inside Ma's Little Red Barn on Main Street. City Manager Kelcey Klemm said the city's portion of funding for the center is around $19,000 - that includes expenses for rent and the director's salary.

A proposal submitted by the hospital includes services that now fall under the responsibility of the director, for a similar cost, under a five-year contract.

That's an issue some council members find attractive - and some seniors find troublesome.

Council member Fred Lehmkuhl said at a special council meeting Wednesday that, while he sympathizes with seniors concerned about a move, it's his responsibility to look out for what's best for the Senior Center program of the future, too.

Lehmkuhl made the argument that, with the hospital providing a director, the city would never have to worry about filling that position, if it did become vacant. He cited rising gas prices and cost of living as reasons someone might look elsewhere for work.

"We have to look at the future and what's going to happen," he said.

Senior Center Director Carol Peters, who works 13 hours a week, said she feels it should be up to the seniors. She said she understands the seniors' concern with walking distances and has been happy in the current location, citing the folks at Ma's Little Red Barn as great landlords.

In their current location, seniors enjoy on-street parking, which limits the space they have to walk outdoors. With the new location, seniors would have to walk a bit farther - from the parking lot across the street into the building. Or, seniors could park in the Perham Living lot and enter the building there.

A few women who attend the Senior Center told the Focus they were opposed to the move, largely because of parking issues and general location. They said they liked being close to the Post Office and downtown shops.

Council member Harriet Mattfeld was on a committee that met with a group of seniors, most of whom opposed the project. She said this is a tough decision for her, as she sympathizes with seniors' concerns, but also sees the hospital as a potentially smart move.

"They (seniors) are adamant - they don't want to move," Mattfeld said. "I like the idea of the hospital, but I don't like the idea of forcing them to do what they don't want to do."

Katie Lundmark, vice president of long-term care at Perham Living, said the old hospital site would open up plenty of doors for seniors, in terms of activities.

"I feel like we have a lot of options and ideas," Lundmark said. "The sky is the limit as far as activities."

Located on the south side of the building, across the courtyard from Perham Living, seniors would have easy access to the gift and coffee shop. The site would also provide three restrooms and the same amount of space they currently enjoy.

What would be different for seniors, in addition to the loss of a Senior Center-only director, is meal service. Perham Living would deliver meals and do dishes, if the Senior Center moved into the hospital site. Currently, meals are made and served at the center's kitchen. The new location would not provide access to a kitchen.

If approved by the council, the Senior Center would join The Boys and Girls Club of the Perham Area and M State's business start-up service as tenants.

No council action was taken Wednesday. Instead, the council made a decision to move on with exploratory tasks, starting with a 'field trip' of seniors to the former hospital location, so they can look around.