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Future of Harry J. Olson Senior Center still up in the air

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LA CROSSE, Wis. (WXOW) — The Harry J. Olson Senior Center on the north side of La Crosse remains in desperate need of repairs, so city council members and the seniors who use the center met this Wednesday morning to talk about what’s next.

“We don’t necessarily know what the answer is today,” said La Crosse Mayor Tim Kabat. “We haven’t figured that out, and I guess I would ask you for your input and thoughts and conversation about that.”

The clock is ticking for the center. City council passed a resolution back in 2016 to renew the leases for both the north and south side senior centers, and those leases are up in 2020. Seniors at the Olson Center do not want to leave.

“We’d like to stay here, but if that’s not possible we need to look to other opportunities elsewhere,” said Donna Wavra, executive director for the Harry J. Olson Senior Center.

An architect evaluated the renovations needed to keep the center functioning into the future. The price tag for these necessary renovations were $1.5 million. Emergency repairs for this year would cost north of $200,000 which is over the budgeted amount of money provided by the city for repairs, $196,000. $20,000 of the $196,000 was used on the architect evaluation.

“Do we spend 1.5 million on one facility, or do we take that money instead and come up with a better plan to come up with a new facility to really be a center to do everything that not only the this club wants to do, but the south side seniors want to do,” said Mayor Kabat.

Seniors provided input and ideas for alternative options. One senior suggested that the city could extend the lease to buy more time in finding a long-term solution. Another brought up the idea of spacing out renovations over the years. A third option is to close the center and rent other space in the area for seniors to gather while a future center is constructed.

All of these options have different pros and cons. La Crosse has a rapidly growing senior population. Seniors plan to continue meeting before time runs out. For now, nothing is certain.

“I’d like to see a definite commitment from the city to make the repairs on our building that need to be done, so we can remain here,” said Wavra.

“The city does and is firmly committed to having robust senior programming in facilities,” said Mayor Kabat.


Mike Beiermeister

WXOW Weekend Anchor and Reporter

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