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Sound Off On New Oak Law Senior Center

A meeting was organized by local seniors on June 6 to let Oak Lawn Mayor Sandra Bury and Larry Deetjen, the village manager, know what they think about the new Oak Lawn Senior Center.

The village officials got an earful.

Complaints about the new senior center, which is now located at the old McGugan School site at 5220 W. 105th St., Oak Lawn, ranged from not having enough handicapped-accessible rest rooms to a lack of room for some activities. One senior even referred to the new site as Òa dump.”

The move to the McGugan site was necessitated because the old senior center at 5330 W. 95th St. is part of series of adjoining buildings that will be leveled for a new Beverly Bank facility.

Originally, the senior center was going to be located at the old Brandt School site, 8901 S. 52nd Ave. However, negotiations for a lease broke down.

The grand opening and ribbon-cutting for the new senior center took place on May 30.

Bury admitted that a scramble for a new senior center occurred after negotiations with Brandt broke down. The Oak Lawn Village Board had approved earlier this year a plan for $1.8 million in development along 95th Street that would include a Beverly Bank facility.

The mayor said that the McGugan location is a Òwork in progress” and more has to be done. However, Bury and Deetjen both said that Oak Lawn Hometown School District 123 have been accommodating.

Deetjen said the parking issue would be alleviated because additional space would be made available in the back of the building.

But that did not satisfy a group that included about 40 seniors who turned out for the morning meeting at the Village Hall.

Catherine Apicella, who has lived in Oak Lawn for 37 years, organized the meeting with Bury and Deetjen.

ÒThis new senior center is totally unacceptable,” said Apicella, reiterating complaints about having one handicapped-accessible rest room. ÒThe one room we have is too small to play cards.”

Other seniors complained about exercise facilities. About 18 elderly residents showed up for an exercise class and said they were shoulder-to-shoulder, way too tight for any movement. Another resident complained about the gym not being handicapped accessible.

Bury said that a handrail will be put in the gym.

ÒLots of people liked the 95th Street location,” said Apicella, who also admitted that it was far from perfect. ÒIf the village is going to put more money into this or another location, we should see if this is worthwhile to do this.”

Others seniors complained about a lack of programs for the elderly in the village. One resident said that they go to Evergreen Park for line dancing. Other residents go to Burbank for their senior programs.

ÒI have trouble opening doors, and this is an unsafe place,” added Apicella. ÒThe building probably would not be up to code. It is quite antiquated.”

Deetjen said that the old senior center on 95th Street did have its deficiencies. The roof had to be replaced, added Deetjen.

ÒIt was decided by the old board that a better center is needed,” said Deetjen.

The seniors at the meeting would prefer a site in the middle of town that is close to shopping.

ÒIs there a possibility we could go build a senior center near the old site? The answer is yes,” said Deetjen. But the village manager, along with Bury, told the crowd they have to decide what programs they want and what is of the most importance for a new senior center.

ÒThe board will get their arms around this,” said Bury. ÒIf you want your own center, we can look at it.”

Seniors asked about the Oak View Center, 4625 W. 110th St., and the old Beatty Lumber site in the middle of town. Deetjen said both sites were discussed. But Oak View has a lot of programs already in place. The old Beatty Lumber site near the Metra Station along 95th Street was discussed under the previous administration of former Oak Lawn Mayor Dave Heilmann. However, it never got past the discussion stage.

Apicella also wondered why seniors had to purchase their own materials for the senior center.

ÒI agree with you 100 percent,” responded Deetjen. ÒBut it has come to my attention that a special account had been set up. But it does not show up on the books.”

Bury and Deetjen were informed of a special account that had $40,000. However, Deetjen said that he has seen a written account of $6,000.

The village manager said this matter would have to be looked into to determine why there is such a disparity.

Deetjen explained to the group that the old McGugan site was chosen because they have a two-year lease with an option for five. The village is paying $15,000 a year to lease the building.

ÒWe worked hard to get the Brandt site, we were disappointed,” said Deetjen. ÒThe building would have been more energy-efficient. It didn’t work out. We should be at the top, not a follower with a senior facility.”

Bury agreed that more has to be done for Oak Lawn seniors.

ÒI always felt in my heart that we should do more for seniors. It’s important that you tell what you want,” said Bury. ÒLet’s work together and let’s stay positive.”

Apicella wondered why they had to leave the 95th Street site and added, ÒI’m sorry, Oak Lawn does not need another bank.”

Deetjen explained that in a free society, the village cannot dictate demands to a developer that buys property.

ÒYou should be happy that we have 40 banks in Oak Lawn,” added Deetjen.

Bury reminded the crowd to fill out questionnaires asking what they want for the senior center.

Deetjen added that his wife would volunteer to plan day trips and other excursions.

ÒWe live near a world class city (Chicago), let’s take advantage of it,” added Deetjen, who reminded seniors that transportation is available through the village to and from the center.

When asked if the lease could be broken at the old McGugan site if a better location for a senior center could be found, Deetjen said yes. However, he pointed out, programs have to be decided on and an agreement on the site has to be resolved. Architect drawings would also have to be drawn up before a center could be built.

The meeting concluded with seniors filling out the forms to determine what programs and what type of building they want in a new senior facility. Bury and Deetjen said they both would look into their requests.

After the meeting, Oak Lawn resident Alice Betz summed up the feelings of the seniors.

ÒMy concern is, I don’t want them to put thousands of dollars into a new senior center that is not adequate.”

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