POCATELLO — An effort is afoot to establish a community center in Pocatello that could serve as both the venue for the local Senior Activity Center as well as a central hub for Gate City residents of any age to gather for various events and activities.
Pocatello City Councilman Rick Cheatum serves as a liaison between the council and the Senior Activity Center and says he has been in charge of a steering committee formed last May that has been discussing options for a new community center in Pocatello.
“We are still in the very preliminary stages of this process, but we started by taking a look at combining our local senior groups — the Senior Activity Center, New Knowledge Adventures and the United Seniors project — into one building,” Cheatum said. “But it soon became clear to us that there has been a change in the type of activity centers that municipalities are looking for, with more of an emphasis being placed on community centers that cater not only to senior populations but to individuals of every age group.”
Cheatum said the committee he chairs consists of two board members from each of the three aforementioned senior activity groups. The committee has been meeting at least once a month since last summer to develop a business model and implementation plan for the city’s proposed community center.
Pocatello’s Senior Activity Center is leasing its current 427 N. Sixth Ave. location from the city for $1 per year, with the city contributing about $35,000 annually to the center for utility, maintenance and other infrastructural needs, Cheatum said.
Much of the rationale for starting the community center steering committee was because the North Sixth Avenue building is quite old, and among other various maintenance concerns, is in need of a new roof, which is leaking in some locations, Cheatum said.
Furthermore, Cheatum said it made sense to try and find a singular building to house all three of the local senior activity groups in a new community center that would also provide services for the entire community in order to take advantage of economies of scale as well as increased funding and grant opportunities.
“We are looking at consolidating all of the senior groups into one building because they currently use several different hotels, venues or meeting rooms throughout the Pocatello area, which in some cases has limited who can participate in those events or functions,” Cheatum said. “With one central location, events such as wood carving, billiards, card games and line dancing could all be offered under one roof.”
Cheatum’s committee has explored options for transforming the existing Senior Activity Center into a community center, constructing a community center from the ground up, and finding an existing building that could be renovated into a community center.
Cheatum said it could cost $10 million or more to build a 40,000- to 50,000-square-foot community center. He said finding an existing building and repurposing it into a community center would be the more cost-effective option.
Cheatum’s committee is looking at the Calvary Chapel building on Olympus Drive currently listed at $3.4 million and the former Farmers Insurance building on South Fifth Avenue currently listed at $2.95 million as potential locations for the community center.
While preliminary discussions have involved finding a community center that would house all three of the city’s senior activity groups, Cheatum stressed that his committee is far from reaching a recommended action plan for the city. He said it’s even possible the initiative goes a different direction and the future Pocatello community center doesn’t actually involve all three of the senior activity groups.
Nonetheless, some of the committee’s conversation topics have made it back to members of the Senior Activity Center, who Cheatum says have voiced opposition to not just a combination of the area’s senior groups, but also to the idea of housing the Senior Activity Center in a different building that would also cater to citizens of various age groups.
Last week, a Senior Activity Center patron presented a petition to the City Council that he’s circulating that asks Pocatello’s senior citizens to voice their opposition to the community center idea.
In response to the petition, Senior Activity Center Board President Ernie Naftzger is set to address issues regarding the petition and answer any questions about the community center proposal during a 3:45 p.m. Friday public meeting in the Senior Activity Center dining room.
Cheatum said his committee is expected to meet again later this month, adding that he is hopeful the group will have a recommendation for the City Council regarding a new community center within the year.