Inadequate space for activities, limited parking spaces and improper security measures are not issues commonly associated with a senior citizen center. At the Martin Luther King Older Adult Center these conditions have been a topic of debate for many years.
Members of the King Center, located at 2010 W. Cecil B. Moore Ave. inside the Martin Luther King Recreation Center, have needed a new facility for almost two decades.
Russel Robinson, the president of the Advisory Council at the King Center, has been working on acquiring a new center for the older adults in the Ridge Avenue community since being elected into office three years ago. Through his hard work, progress has been made on relocating the center, but funding has been a major problem in executing his plan.
The estimated cost for the new facility is $5 million, which can come from either the city of Philadelphia or the private sector. There have been many oral-agreements made to the advisory council, but funding has yet to be delivered.
“Right now we don’t know where the funding is going to come from,” Robinson explained,
Although the funding has yet to be finalized, the location has been chosen for the new older adult center. In order to appease the community’s clientele, the center will be built across the street from the center’s current location.
The vacant lot on the 2100 block of Cecil B. Moore Avenue will be big enough for the new facility to include off-street parking for those who don’t rely on public transportation. Currently, parking is a major problem for members, especially for those with disabilities.
“There is going to be enough for a parking lot. With the city ordinances you have to have a certain amount of parking spaces per person that comes to use the center,” Robinson said.
Fifth District City Councilman Darrell Clarke said the process of purchasing the land is in its first phase. He said he thinks the process of acquiring the vacant lot can be finished in as little as six months.
“The site is moving through the process of acquisition,” Clarke said. “It could be completed in as short as six months or possibly a little longer.”
While six months doesn’t seem to be a lot of time to wait to break ground on this project, there are many anxious members in need of better conditions.
The center serves roughly 100 senior citizens each day and has close to 850 members who use the center throughout the week. With just four rooms to accommodate its members, prospective older adults are often discouraged upon arriving at the center.
Lorraine Moore has been a member of the King Center for nine years. She thinks a new center would not only improve the current conditions, but it would increase the number of members significantly.
“We have a lot of people here who do a lot of activities,” Moore explained, “Sometimes when people come in it is so crowded in here they get discouraged and leave. If we had a bigger space and a state-of-the-art facility, the enrollment would go up.”
The limited space is only the beginning of the problem at the King Center. Currently, members need to use caution upon entering and exiting the building as security has become a major issue, even for the older adults in the community.
Although most security problems are non-violent, there have been issues that have caused major concerns. Two years ago, a 16-year-old gunman shot and killed another teenager during a crowded basketball game inside the Martin Luther King Recreation Center.
“Not that I have anything against the younger adults in the recreation part of the building, it’s that the seniors are a little fretful about the crowd that the young people attract,” Robinson explained.
Both the space issue and the security issue have been caused by the overcrowded Martin Luther King Recreation Center King Center that is occupied by both young adults and the senior citizens of the community.
“I am not saying it is real, real bad, but it is not a good atmosphere for the seniors,” Robinson said. “If we had a new center, we would have our own security setup there and young adults wouldn’t be able to come over to our building.”
Disadvantages felt by the members have increased Robinson’s awareness as to what need to be addressed in the project. At the King Center’s current location members must go up and down flights of stairs in order to get to certain areas of the facility.
“Right now the exercise room is located upstairs and I think going up and down flights of steps is ludicrous for older adults,” Robinson explained.
Recreation Commissioner Susan Slawson has noticed the action of Robinson and acknowledges that the project is on the agenda of Philadelphia’s Parks and Recreation Department.
“It is something that is on the agenda and [City Councilman Clarke] is working diligently to help them,” Slawson said. “The facility is used highly by the seniors in the community and if there is any way to increase the facilities for them, we will try to do so.”
Although the project has support from both Slawson and Clarke, the advisory council thinks that the process may take longer than anticipated. Since there are no official documents for the project at this point, everything cannot be taken for granted.
“Until we acquire the land, until we have the architect to draw up the plans, until the money is finally stamped for the center, then all our efforts are taken in vain,” Robinson said.
Despite the feelings of Robinson and the rest of the advisory council, Clarke is optimistic that the center with be a success.
“It’s been a long time coming for the seniors and we are excited about getting a new facility for them,” Clarke explained, “This will give them the appropriate space needed to support their programs at the center.”