More controversy has arisen over the proposed renovations to the Hennepin Park Community Center, with a former Common Council member saying the plans do not meet the needs of senior citizens.
Norman Bakos, who as Lovejoy District representative was instrumental in obtaining a state grant for the center in 1990 and who now heads a community group, said he is "appalled at the lack of creativity" in the plans for the renovated and expanded center. He said senior citizens are being shortchanged.
Bakos, who at age 68 is in the senior category, said there has been a lack of community participation in the planning process. He has called a community meeting for 7 p.m. Tuesday in School 43 on Lovejoy Street.
Richard Fontana, the current Lovejoy Council member, said that some of Bakos' suggestions have been incorporated into the plans but that otherwise the design meets seniors' needs well. He said further changes would only be costly and further delay the project, already 10 years old.
"He (Bakos) is the only person who has come to me with concerns," Fontana said. "Everybody else said they like the design. We don't want to have to scrap it and start over."
Construction is scheduled to begin in May and be completed in December, and redesigning the facility would likely cost a construction season, Fontana said.
Bakos acknowledged that his proposed changes would result in a three-month delay and cost $300,000 or more that would have to come from the city.
"People want to get it built, but they should make a knowledgeable decision," he said. Under the current design, "it would be antiquated before we even start."
Bakos is president of the 200-member East Lovejoy Business & Taxpayers Association and said he has the support of a majority -- only a 5-4 majority (with Bakos casting the deciding vote) -- of his board.
The building is to serve as both a youth and senior citizen center. But Bakos said the design fails to meet the needs of seniors, who want their own exercise area and computer room. The current design "is a passive senior citizens center, like something from the 1980s," he said. "It's fine for bingo games, but seniors want to do more."
He proposes extensive design changes, making some areas smaller and adding other features, such as a meeting room/classroom, a passive games room and office space for the director and kitchen manager.
He also proposes additional space for another community group, ABLEY (the Advisory Board for Lovejoy Elderly & Youth), which will operate a day-care center there.
Bakos agrees there should be day care. A third community group, the Iron Island Preservation Society, is fighting that aspect of the plan.
Fontana said he credits Bakos for pointing out the need for additional bathroom and kitchen space and said that has been incorporated into the plans. Otherwise, he said, the current plan adequately addresses the needs of the whole community.
"I don't think the computer room will be popular among seniors," he said. He said the seniors will have the gym and the rest of the center to themselves during the day.
Bakos originally obtained a $2.7 million grant for the center, but the amount available now is closer to $2.2 million. Redesign work stemming from a court fight over a since-discarded plan that would have required the use of some parkland ate up much of the difference.
"Over $400,000 has been spent and we have nothing to show for it," Fontana said.