Iowa City senior center faces moment of ‘community change’ as population ages

Elton Combs leads a line dancing class Tuesday at the Iowa City/Johnson County Senior Center. The historic building will undergo an exterior renovation, but a community survey will be conducted to see if programming for seniors — like the line-dancing class — will continue to be in downtown Iowa City or if other places could be better served. a growing segment of the population. (Nick Rohlman/The Gazette)

Sheri Piper leads a line dancing class Tuesday at the Iowa City/Johnson County Senior Center in Iowa City. Besides line dancing, the center offers a wide variety of programs, including yoga, arts and crafts, volunteer opportunities, and advice on avoiding scams and healthy living. (Nick Rohlman/The Gazette)

Class attendees practice line dancing Tuesday at the Iowa City/Johnson County Senior Center in downtown Iowa City. (Nick Rohlman/The Gazette)

Class attendees practice line dancing Tuesday at the Iowa City/Johnson County Senior Center in downtown Iowa City. (Nick Rohlman/The Gazette)

Ann Satterly (left) and Bernie Goepferd (right) participate in a line dancing class Tuesday at the Iowa City/Johnson County Senior Center in downtown Iowa City. (Nick Rohlman/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY – With people over 65 the fastest growing segment of Johnson County’s population, plans are underway to determine the future of downtown Iowa City which provides services for seniors .

The Iowa City/Johnson County Senior Center at 28 S. Linn St. has housed the center since 1981. It was built in 1904 and expanded in 1931 to its current size. It housed a post office until 1975. (Nick Rohlman/The Gazette)

The city owns the historic building on S. Linn Street and will renovate its exterior for the first time in 41 years. But before we go any further, the city – with input from the community – will have to decide whether the Iowa City/Johnson County senior center should remain downtown or if there is another location that could eventually better serve the growing population.

LaTasha DeLoach, coordinator of the Senior Center, said a master plan that fits into the budget is an “opportunity for community change.”

“That will include renovations that will attract more people, I believe, to the space,” DeLoach said of the potential changes for the interior. “This allows us to be able to serve our population and the populations to come in the future and in a much more accessible way.

The center offers a wide variety of programs, including yoga, line dancing, arts and crafts, volunteer opportunities, and advice on avoiding scams and healthy living.

Seniors in Johnson County

When Jeff Kellbach began his work as Johnson County’s aging specialist four years ago, the baby boomer population was the fastest growing cohort in the county — and there’s a good reason for that. .

Kellbach noted the quality services and resources available in the county, including health care, transportation, arts and culture, and free or low-cost events throughout the year. In her role, Kellbach assists seniors by connecting them to area resources and helping them through the process so their needs are met.

About 13 percent of Johnson County’s population are people age 65 and older, according to population estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau. In Iowa City, it’s 11%.

And this growth is expected to continue. The population of people 65 and older in Johnson County is growing faster than any other age group, said Bob Untiedt, executive director of TRAIL of Johnson County, a nonprofit dedicated to aging in place. .

Untiedt echoed the same reasons as Kellbach why Johnson County is an attractive place for seniors.

TRAIL of Johnson County aims to help seniors live and age safely in their own homes. The organization organizes social events and has volunteers who help the elderly with various tasks, such as transportation, technological assistance and daily check-ins.

In 2021, the organization was receiving an average of 38 requests per month for volunteer services, with some months seeing more than 70 requests, Untiedt said.

“We keep learning”

The Senior Center, a division of the city, has served the elderly for decades. The center — which is open to everyone, no matter what city they live in — aims to close the gaps so seniors can continue to “thrive in our communities,” DeLoach said.

The building at 28 S. Linn St. has housed the Senior Center since 1981. It was built in 1904 and expanded in 1931 to its present size. It housed the old post office until 1975.

The Senior Center offers classes, activities and volunteer opportunities, as well as space for rent. Tours are offered as it is a historic building listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

“We continue to learn,” DeLoach said, adding that there are “well over 1,000 people” who are members.

The Senior Center is a “community center,” DeLoach said. Although programming focuses on people 50 and older, the center is open to everyone.

Kellbach praised the work of DeLoach and the Senior Center staff for creating “dynamic programming with a community vibe.”

“I think we’re extremely lucky in Johnson County to have a place like the center,” Kellbach said.

Senior Center Master Plan

The Senior Center’s master plan has been in the works since December 2019, and a first draft was presented to the Iowa City Council in April. The plan consists of three phases, with the first phase focusing on the exterior renovation.

The master plan calls for $13.8 million in potential upgrades and renovations to the current building, roughly double the city’s planned $6.7 million.

The first phase is budgeted at $2.7 million for the exterior, including repairs to prevent water damage, window replacement and painting. The exterior works carried out will preserve the historic structure.

The remaining $3.4 million is for interior renovations — if the center stays downtown — which could include kitchen upgrades, heating and ventilation, air conditioning, and green building strategies. Private fundraising to complete the interior renovations is planned.

DeLoach said there will need to be a discussion about which upgrades are “needs” and which are “needs.”

The senior center’s master plan will ultimately have to be approved by the Iowa City Council. Mayor Bruce Teague said it will be important for council to hear feedback from the community, as well as ensuring the space is accessible and inviting.

Consideration of population growth will also be important, Teague said.

“As we continue to expand, we want to make sure the space we have can accommodate,” Teague said. “I think that’s a big part of what needs to be there – how can this space work for us now and also many years later.”

What is the best location?

Exterior work is expected to take up to two years, said Redmond Jones II, deputy city administrator. This period will allow for a robust and ongoing public consultation process to understand what seniors are looking for, Jones added.

Senior Center staff are working on a survey to gather community feedback on the renovations, location and future programming because “it’s a really big decision,” DeLoach said. The survey should be launched in the coming months.

Before the money is spent on interior renovations, the city wants to know if the current location is best for programming or if there are other locations better suited to the needs of seniors, Jones said.

Some of the concerns DeLoach has heard about the current location are that it is downtown and lacks parking. But on the flip side, the downtown location provides easier access by public transportation, Jones said.

“This won’t be a simple conversation, but I look forward to hearing from end users about what they expect, use and value,” Jones said.

The question surrounding location is important because the space the senior center is in will directly impact programming, DeLoach said. The senior center staff like the current building, but are open to potential opportunities.

“We don’t know where we will end up, but I know that as staff we are open to doing whatever we need to do that the community expects of us, so that we can serve the people we are meant to serve. “said DeLoach.

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