Council: Center to remain open

BLUE EARTH – As a storm took down trees outside – one across the intersection from City Hall – Blue Earth City Council weathered another storm inside, reassuring a dozen senior citizens that the Senior Center will not be closing.

The city has received almost 20 letters from concerned citizens imploring the council to keep the center open, and to consider the needs of the older population in town. Sparking their concern is the fact that the council has twice dodged naming a permanent director for the facility, and has talked about looking into different options, including having library staff open the doors.

“People are feeling if we don’t have a director, the place will go down the tube,” said Marty Cassem, chairman of the Senior Center board. “We don’t want it to drag on. People don’t know what’s happening.”

Cassem listed the many purposes of the senior center, including being rented out for events, and hosting health programs, Social Security and tax help, blood pressure clinics, exercise clinics, foot clinic and programs with the school kids.

“Leave it the way it is, beautiful place for the community,” Cassem said. “I don’t want to see another entity of Blue Earth take over the center. I don’t see how anyone can open up the place without running it.”

“[As to closing the center], that is in no way gonna happen,” said Mayor Rick Scholtes. “It’s our chance to take a look at it right now.”

Council members John Gartzke and Glenn Gaylord echoed Scholtes’ remarks with their own.

“We’re not considering closing it,” Gaylord said. “We want to look at the big picture and make it better.”

“We want to keep the center; it’s a matter of how we want to run it,” Gartzke said. “I think the biggest thing we have to look at is the meal program.”

Cassem does want to explore meal options and said new kitchen equipment would run about $20,000.

“I don’t see why we can’t get someone local to supply the food,” he said, adding he doesn’t like asking anyone to drive the food from Winnebago, especially in the winter.

Scholtes has spoken with Dan Woodring, director of Interfaith Caregivers, about the possibility of his organization taking over operations.

“Using Interfaith Caregivers, we might be able to make it more affordable,” he said. “To be fair to everybody, we need to have that discussion.”

Scholtes wants to meet with Woodring, Councilman Russ Erichsrud and Cassem to go over the options, and said the meeting will be open to the public.

“I think we need to work together as a group,” Scholtes said.

In other business, the council set two special meetings. One is 4 p.m. Thursday to discuss awarding a bid for the North Industrial Park, a zoning division for the North Industrial Park and a rough draft of a wage increase for council members and the mayor. The second meeting will begin at 4:30 p.m. Monday to discuss how to proceed with hiring a city administrator and what to do in the meantime. There will also be a closed session dealing with Police Officer Chad Bonin.