By John Derby & Jonathan Whitaker
Our senior citizens have valuable perspectives on both the passage of time and dealing with uncertainty.
Last winter, state and regional transportation agencies held a big meeting at the Merced Senior Community Center to talk about the new Merced Intermodal Track Connection (MITC) Project.
The big news or vision, simplified, was that the proposed High Speed Rail (HSR) station site for downtown was being relocated from an at-grade site between G and MLK to a massive elevated structure, above a large parking and transit area, between O and R streets, from the Highway 99 corridor to 16th Street. They were told that HSR service from Merced to Bakersfield was planned to start as early as 2030. Also, the HSR station would connect to the proposed ACE and San Joaquins rail services that provide passenger service to the northern valley and the Bay Area.
Ironically, it was all too clear that the very ground the meeting was held on was targeted for the new “Merced Station.” The Senior Center, at 755 W. 15th St., would be torn down, along with the McCombs Youth Center on the same block.
So what happens next?
Building a new Senior Center would be no small project. The City of Merced owns the property, and officials expect to receive some state money when the HSR and MITC construction begins. But would it be enough to replace what local seniors already have?
The center is one of the best public facilities in the county with a great hall for events and a beautiful hardwood floor for dancing. There’s a stage for live music and performances, a commercial kitchen, a reception area, library, pool table and card rooms and a conference room, and a BBQ grill area outside, among other features.
Thinking about a replacement for all this is enough to make a senior’s head spin.
“There’s a lot up in the air,” says Ed Rose, the president of Merced Senior Citizens, Inc., the organization in charge of daily programming at the center. “We hear about High Speed Rail starting and then sitting idle. … but we know it’s coming.”
Voters approved the initial HSR project 15 years ago with an estimated cost of $33 billion and an opening date set for 2020. Aspects of the plan have changed significantly since then, to say the least. For example, it’s now projected to cost up to $128 billion, and not a mile of track has been laid. Meanwhile, the state budget aims to bridge a projected $31.7 billion general fund deficit.
Nevertheless, Rose and other volunteers, are not going to sit around and do nothing about the future of the center. They’ve got a plan. And it’s about love, patience and hope for better days ahead.
“What we are trying to do is raise awareness of who we are, and all the activities we provide, and our place in the community,” Rose told the Times. “By doing that, we feel we can garner public support when the time comes for a new home.”
In recent weeks, seniors have been engaging with local service clubs, including the Lions, the Kiwanis and the Rotary clubs, to spread the Senior Center message. They also want to meet with political leaders in the region, and movers and shakers.
“The Senior Center is something that really benefits the community at a minimal cost to those who participate,” Rose said.
It’s open 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday, with more than 20 different programed activities — Yoga, Pinocle, Line Dancing, Belly Dancing (for fitness), Wood Carving, Bunco, Guest Speakers, and the popular Senior Social with Bingo on Friday, just to name a few. There’s also a Sunday Dance from 1 p.m to 5 p.m.
Every week, more than 500 local seniors take advantage of these opportunities.
“Through social interaction and activity, seniors are able to maintain and increase their cognitive and physical abilities,” Rose said. “So they are functioning long into life, and they are less of a burden on their families and health services.”
The Times asked Rose and longtime volunteers Tom Soto and Don Lee about where they thought a new center would be located, but they could only speculate.
There’s a thought the local Youth Center could merge with the Senior Center. Having a diversity of generations in one place could be a positive. One example that’s brought up is the Los Banos Community Center, a large, multipurpose facility with activities for young people and adults.
It would be nice to have a place close to a public transit center; however, many of the seniors who attend activities at the Merced Senior Center drive to the location.
Hopefully, a new place would be secured before the current one is torn down. That’s perhaps the main concern.
“Everybody has to keep their ears to the ground, keep their eyes open, be flexible, and get out in front of it,” Rose said.
He chuckled, and then added: “But maybe that’s not the best imagery for a train that’s coming.”