Future of Hollister Senior Center uncertain

In this photo, board members contemplate ways the Hollister Senior Center could afford to stay open. (Submitted photo)

In this photo, board members contemplate ways the Hollister Senior Center could afford to stay open. (Submitted photo)

BALDWIN — Lake County has long been known for having a large senior-citizen population, including many retirees who come to enjoy the peaceful, rural setting.

For over five decades, Hollister Senior Center has offered a place for seniors to come together to socialize and enjoy activities, offer community classes and more.

Due to current funding issues with the county-owned building, however, Cheri Davison, manager of the Hollister Senior Center, is concerned about the future of the center, and does not want to see it become vacant.

The last full year of operation for the senior center before COVID-19 struck was 2019, and around the time the pandemic began, the county began looking at some structural issues. However, there wasn't a line-item for repairs for the building in the county's budget.

Going forward, if the center stays open, the county is imposing a rental fee agreement for the first time, but Davison is concerned the millage money the center receives will not be enough to cover the added expense.

The fee the county is asking is $3,600 annually, ($300 per month) which would generate money for repairs, such as the furnace needing replaced, and possibly the roof being replaced three to five years down the road.

Last Thursday, Davison, gathered with board members to discuss the feasibility of staying open.

"The extra $3,600 a year is a big chunk of the $17,000 a year we get from the millage," Davison explained, "in addition to funds members have to raise themselves to supplement income just to make it through the year. The center paid for the new large windows in the front, and (ADA) Americans with Disabilities Act compliant doors, and secured a grant for new flooring in the dining room."

As far as she and other members recalled, they never had to pay rent to use the building since it was deeded by Betty Hollister in 1969. Further, the original Hollister trust states if the center is not used as a senior center, it is supposed to be reverted back to the Hollister family, Davision stated. However, no paperwork exists stating they don't have to pay to be in the building, she added.

"With all our expenses, I don't know how we are going to pay $300 rent without raising money for things like membership and classes. I am not sure how we are going to operate with the millage money while paying the extra rent. We don't want to see the center closed, but how can we keep it open if we can't afford it," Davison said.

The county is giving the center time to see if this agreement could possibly work.

"The county is willing to work with us, as the original proposal was $1,000 a month, and I understand funding for repairs is needed," she said.

Hollister Senior Center is the only one of five senior centers in Lake County which the county owns. Davison clarified that the little apartment and garage belonging to the Hollister Housing Commission is not included as part of the senior center.

Board members suggested ideas to raise money such as hosting benefit dinners, but added they would face additional costs of becoming licensed in order to serve food and would need a lot of volunteer effort to make fundraiser events happen.

Davison said if the center continues, membership would have to go from $10 a year to $20 a year. Members would still get a discount on giving a class and half-off building rental. Rent is currently $100, which was raised from $75. The new proposed rent would be $175.

"We are still trying to keep costs down," Davison said, saying, in 2019 there was a substantial increase of people renting the building for occasions such as baby showers, graduations, holiday gatherings, etc.

Some of the board members were optimistic the center could still stay open.

"I think we're going to be okay, just raise some prices as suggested," said Darci Maldonado.

Another suggestion was trying to get younger senior-citizens involved in the center, and to have some evening classes so 9 to 5 workers (ages 55 and older) would be able to participate.

"Membership for the senior center is 55 and older, but younger ages can participate," Davison said, reminding everyone present how important the center is to the community at-large.