Commission pledges $1 million toward new senior center

Boosters hope state will fund remainder of $6.32 million project

Posted 3/23/23

The effort to build a new, expanded Powell Senior Center got a substantial boost on Tuesday, as Park County commissioners pledged $1 million toward the project.

The nonprofit organization has now …

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Commission pledges $1 million toward new senior center

Boosters hope state will fund remainder of $6.32 million project


The effort to build a new, expanded Powell Senior Center got a substantial boost on Tuesday, as Park County commissioners pledged $1 million toward the project.

The nonprofit organization has now raised roughly $2.43 million for the estimated $6.32 million, 8,725 square foot facility.

In making the motion to award the money to the project, Commissioner Lloyd Thiel said most of the people who use the Powell Senior Center were born and raised in the area.

“They’ve paid a pretty big price over the years of supporting this county and stuff,” Thiel said, “so I don’t really have a problem [with] giving back to them.”

The center asked for $4 million and “I wish we could just throw out all the money that you need,” Thiel said, but “I don’t feel that that’s possible.”

The funding will be drawn from a pool of roughly $6.5 million that the county received from the federal government through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). With several other entities and projects seeking those funds, commissioners expressed some hesitation about giving a $1 million chunk to the senior center, but ultimately opted to do so on a 3-1 vote.

While Commissioner Scott Steward expressed support for the project, he voted against the funding, saying he wanted to see where the county stood with its other funding requests before awarding dollars to the project.

For her part, Powell Senior Center Director Linda Dalton was “beyond words” with appreciation for the commissioners’ $1 million commitment.

“It shows that they understand the needs of the senior community,” Dalton said in an interview.

The current facility on North Gilbert Street is cramped for the area’s growing population of senior citizens, has limited parking, does not comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act and is showing its age, with a leaky roof, a broken heater and various other problems.

“Everything’s deteriorating,” Dalton said.

Those are among the reasons why the organization wants to build a new facility near the Rocky Mountain Manor, on the corner of Douglas and First streets.

The county’s funding is contingent on the senior center securing the remaining funds. So Powell Senior Center leaders and their supporters will next attempt to convince the State Loan and Investment Board — made up of the five statewide elected officials — to award the roughly $3.9 million needed to complete the project.

Better known as SLIB, the board tabled the senior center’s grant application and eight others in December. That was in part because the board used up all the funding in the state’s Health and Human Services Capital Construction Program. However, Wyoming lawmakers put in another $30 million of ARPA dollars from an earlier disbursement during their recent session and specifically gave preference to the nine projects that were tabled.

The remaining hurdle is whether the Powell Senior Center qualifies for the funding, as the dollars are reserved for projects that are “a direct and proportionate response to COVID-19 or its negative economic impacts.”

“There is money out there with the SLIB … to spend. It’s just if we can get them on board,” Sen. Dan Laursen (R-Powell) summarized at Tuesday’s commission meeting. “I don’t know.”

At the December meeting, State Treasurer Curt Meier voiced his support for the Powell project, but State Auditor Kristi Racines said the restrictions on those ARPA dollars make it “highly risky” to use them on a new senior center. Racines expressed concern that the center could ultimately be forced to repay the money to the federal government.

During the session, Laursen and fellow Powell Sen. Tim French attempted to directly steer $17 million worth of ARPA funding to several long-term care facilities and senior centers in the state, including Powell’s planned facility.

“I think these are vitally important and I want to send that message to our state lands board,” Laursen argued on the Senate floor on Feb. 21.

However, their proposed amendment to House Bill 195 failed on a 26-5 vote.

Noting that a senior center in his district could benefit from the funds, Sen. Dave Kinskey (R-Sheridan) said it was a “tough call,” but he voted no. Kinskey noted the concern that the senior centers don’t qualify for the ARPA dollars.

For his part, Laursen contends that Powell’s project can fit within the program — and he said the funding from the county could lead the SLIB to see it more favorably.

“We can sure fight harder when it comes up,” Laursen said Tuesday.

In December’s initial pitch to the state board, Dalton noted that the center helped many senior citizens amid the COVID-19 pandemic and the demand for its services have only increased. The center served an average of 176 meals a day in February, she said, up from 120 to 130 daily meals pre-pandemic.

The high price tag can also be attributed in part to the pandemic as well.

“Our cost prior to COVID was $3.2 million,” Dalton said Tuesday. “It’s now $6.3 million.”

She added that the center serves as a kind of family for many seniors and helps them stay in their homes — something that’s increasingly important as long-term care centers struggle to find staff. 

“The senior center will never become obsolete. There’s never going to be technology that’s going to take the place of what we do,” Dalton said, predicting the new center would serve at least three generations. “So what we are asking for is basically anything we can get.”

All four commissioners present on Tuesday said the need for a new center is obvious. Their hesitation was that they’ve already committed much of the $6.5 million they received as their initial ARPA funding and they’re not sure whether the rest of the roughly $12 million will arrive in the coming months.

“If we could give the whole thing, I think we would, but we can’t at this point,” said Commission Chair Dossie Overfield, who cast the deciding vote to commit the $1 million.

Commissioner Scott Mangold said it’s possible the county could provide additional funding this summer, if the federal government comes through with the additional ARPA dollars.

According to the center, other major sources of financial support include a $400,000 pledge from the Daniels Fund, a $293,000 grant from the Wyoming Department of Transportation for a garage and a verbal $50,000 commitment from the City of Powell. Local seniors have pledged $36,075.

The SLIB is set to reconsider the Powell Senior Center’s funding application on April 7 in Cheyenne. Project boosters plan to attend.