By Courtney Sweeney
Williamston Post staff writer
The Williamston Area Senior Center has been a place for seniors in and around Williamston to socialize, dine, and learn with one another for the past 22 years. But with funds dwindling, the center has an unclear future.
According to senior center volunteer and treasurer Virginia Taschner, the center was working off money from the school district when it first opened in 1992 because the building used to be the old high school. It was one of the adult day care centers that also had a grant from the Tri-County Office on Aging, but the state has forced both programs to cut budgets. Since then, the center has had no regular source of funding, relying only on donations from individuals and clubs such as Rotary, The American Legion and Kiwanis.
“Two years ago one of our seniors died, and he left us $25,000. And so that’s what we’re really working on now,” said Taschner. “We’ve got plenty of money to last us for the next year, but we don’t have any regular source of income – we’re looking for that.”
Williamston Township Board trustee and senior center volunteer Rick Williams said the money won’t even last the entire year. He said the center has only enough money to pay the director – his wife, Nancy Williams, – until September. She is the only paid staff member at the senior center.
The building housing the senior center, The Williamston Community Center on School Street, seems to be in just as much of a bind. According to Williams, the building is owned by the city. While the senior center is allowed to use the building free of charge, it hasn’t been cheap for the city to maintain.
“The city admits that the building is costing them $80,000 a year just in utilities,” said Williamston Community Library Foundation President Jack Helder. “They’re in a quandary about what to do with it.”
The Williamston Community Library is on the lower level of the community center. The library had been looking for a new home for years, and the Williamston Community Library Foundation finally bought a parcel of land on Grand River Avenue, according to Helder. But the process of actually building that library has been a long one.
“There’s been a lot of complications,” said Julie Chrisinske, the head librarian. “They [the Williamston Community Library Foundation] have supporters and board members from all of the areas around here – Williamstown Township, Wheatfield Township, and the city of Williamston. People from those three municipalities are who make up the foundation.”
The complications Chrisinske refers to mostly have to do with the cooperation amongst these municipalities.
“There was a lot more synergy and cooperation going on among the other municipalities with the city when I first got here a couple of years ago. And that support and that cooperation and that desire to work together has eroded,” said the librarian.
According to Chrisinske, the foundation intended to form a joint building authority for the library that included the city of Williamston, Williamstown Township and Wheatfield Township to create a bond and push money toward the new construction. But right off the bat, Wheatfield Township wanted nothing to do with it.
Now, after a meeting in which the city council decided to continue supporting a new library, Williamstown Township has pulled out as well, according to Chrisinske. She says they perceived that a new spot for the senior center would not be included inside this new library building, and those are the only terms on which the township would have supported the idea.
“According to Mickey Martin [the Williamstown Township Supervisor], her board feels that the voters of Williamstown Township would be more likely to vote for a millage for a dual-purpose building and not for a library only,” said Helder.
But an all-in-one library and senior center was never the mission for the foundation, according to Helder. He said the city had asked for the foundation to be formed about 20 years ago to help the community build a library. And while he doesn’t think the city council would be opposed to a joint library and senior center building, he doesn’t believe the land they have now is large enough.
“We have two groups of people out there,” said Chrisinske. “There’s just been no kind of consensus made on what type of building is going to be a built. A multipurpose facility for multiple groups or only a library, and so there’s lots of complexity there.”
It seems both Chrisinske, Helder, and the senior center volunteers agree on this point. They say that there is simply not enough room on the land purchased by the foundation for both an adequate library and senior center.
At this point, Helder is questioning if there’s still enough community support for a new library. He would like to poll citizens in the area, particularly Williamstown Township, to see if they still care about this project. If not, the foundation is considering selling the property and focusing on improving the current library.
However, should the library alone be able to move to its new location, the question still stands of what will become of the senior center, and the seniors who participate in it.
“I don’t know,” said Williams.
He made it clear that the center is a significant part of these seniors’ lives, and not just for bingo or the trips to shows and other attractions.
With the cooperation between municipalities and organizations deteriorating faster than the old building these two entities are housed in, their fate seems uncertain.
As Chrisinske bluntly put it, “now, honestly, everything is just up in the air.”