Council Selects Site for New Senior Center

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Senior Center Site
Longtime Hermiston resident Irene Miller addresses the Hermiston City Council Monday night on the new senior center.

[quote style=”2″]New Building Will Be Called the Harkenrider Center[/quote]

The city of Hermiston already had the money, now it has a site and name for the new senior center.

The Hermiston City Council voted Monday night to build a new $2 million senior center near Northeast Fourth Street and Aspen Drive behind Wal-Mart. The council also voted to name it the Harkenrider Center after longtime Hermiston public servant Frank Harkenrider, who was a city councilor for more than 30 years and mayor for a decade in the 1990s.

The vote came after a spirited discussion among councilors and senior center advocates, who debated the merits of three sites that were under consideration for the new center. Along with the Aspen site, the 11-member Senior Advisory Group looked at the former Goodwill site on Hermiston Avenue, and the property on Ridgeway behind the Hermiston Public Library.

Eight members of the advisory group voted for the Aspen site, with two voting for the Ridgeway site and one voting for the old Goodwill site.

Some controversy arose, according to longtime senior center advocate Perry Hawkins, when a committee member started a petition of Main Street business owners urging the council to select the Ridgeway site after the advisory group already voted for the Aspen site. Ridgeway supporters believe locating the senior center near Main Street will make the downtown area more of a community gathering place.

“That is not what the seniors want,” Hawkins said. “That’s usurping our constitutional rights.” Hawkins said he looked at the names on the petition and only one person who signed it – Sally Anderson Hansell – has ever donated any time or money to the senior center.

Beth Harrington of Sun Terrace Assisted Living said the Aspen site has “so much more possibilities. The Aspen area is going to be an area where our city is going to grow in population, activity and housing. But whatever site we choose, we’re going to make it something great – because that’s what we do.”

Among the advantages of the Aspen site, according to the Senior Advisory Group, is that it provides better access and visibility. Its 3.3-acre size also gives it room for future expansion and it sits in a “park-like setting” that is near a future trail site. It’s also close to Wal-Mart and the property is flat, buildable and located near future retirement housing. Its drawbacks include potentially high purchase costs, and it’s located away from downtown amenities.

The Ridgeway advantages include proximity to downtown and the library, no property acquisition costs since it is owned by the city and Hermiston School District, and it’s visible from Highway 395. The site, however, also has a sizeable slope, has little or no room for future expansion and has limited parking.

Several Ridgeway proponents spoke in support of the site at Monday’s meeting.

“It’s a little short-sighted to see a six-foot slope as a limiting feature,” said Anderson Hansell, who said the site would enhance the Hermiston downtown area.

“It would foster community involvement because of its location,” she said. Anderson Hansell said a senior could spend time at the center and then visit the library and have lunch downtown – all within a short walking distance.

Former Umatilla County Commissioner Dennis Doherty said the center would receive much more community support if it was located near downtown.

“We need something that draws all of us in and is treated as a community center,” said Doherty.

The center will be built with a $2 million grant which stipulates that the center must be operated for seniors only for the first five years, after which the center would be available for senior programs from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday through Friday, and for the general public after 3 p.m. and on weekends.

Councilor Manuel Gutierrez said he supported the Aspen site because it offers room for expansion. Councilor John Kirwan supported the Ridgeway site.

“Ever since I moved to Hermiston in 2000, I’ve heard people talk about what we should do with the downtown,” he said. “We have to look at the greater downtown area. It would be almost sacrilegious for Hermiston to take $2 million and not invest it in downtown.”

Councilor Doug Smith said he believes the seniors should have the right to pick the location for the center. He prefers leaving the Ridgeway property for a future expansion of the library.

In the end, the council voted 6-2 for the Aspen site, with Kirwan and Councilor Lori Davis voting for the Ridgeway site.

The council voted unanimously to name it the Harkenrider Center.

“You may not have agreed with everything during his long service to the community,” said Councilor Jackie Myers, “but you cannot deny that service. Frank has donated more time to the city of Hermiston than anyone else and he deserves this.”

Hermiston Mayor Dave Drotzmann said Harkenrider has been the city’s ambassador for decades.

“There isn’t anybody who has been a bigger cheerleader for Hermiston than Frank Harkenrider,” said Drotzmann. “Anybody who has heard of Hermiston knows about watermelons, and they know about Frank Harkenrider.”

Councilor Rod Hardin elicited laughter when he added:

“It’s a lot cheaper than building a statue.”