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New Center4Life facility unnecessary

By Staff | May 11, 2021

To the editor:

Is a new public facility like The Community House or Sanibel Recreation Center a real need?

A simple question with a complex answer. Decisions should be founded on the greatest need for the most stakeholders. All city expenditures impact every resident and taxpayer living on Sanibel. Critical analysis of any expenditure totaling in the millions is a given. If the expenditure is a public building requiring perpetual maintenance and staffing costs, it is of paramount importance — example: Sanibel Recreation Center.

The line between the Center4Life and Island Seniors is blurred, to say the least. The Island Seniors club was founded in 1977 with a minimum age requirement of 50. The age requirement helped set it apart from other organizations with similar goals. In 2006, the age requirement for membership was eliminated, making membership open to all. From that point on, senior affiliation was in name only. The Island Seniors club was organized as a stand-alone entity, solely guided by the decisions and guidance of its board of directors.

The Center4Life building, originally the Sanibel library, was purchased in 1993 by the city. Since acquisition, the city has been solely responsible for all financial obligations and staffing using Recreation Department funds. In 1993, the Island Seniors moved into the facility and offered activities managed and staffed by its volunteers. At some point the city, through its on-site staff, became increasingly involved with the organization. All have benefitted from the outstanding staff provided by the city. Note, all in-building activities were happening in a city building staffed by city employees.

How best to move forward from the present? We have been active members of the Island Seniors for over a decade and a half. I once served on its board. I feel our observations are relevant to the decisions at hand. The people of Sanibel are fantastic — that applies to those you meet at the Center4Life and others throughout the island. The demographic of Sanibel is the same, regardless of the club or activity one encounters. Most qualify as seniors. Sadly, most have never heard of the Island Seniors. For 90 days, from Jan. 1 through March 31, the island and all activities are bursting at the seams. The Center4Life is no different. However, from May 1 to Nov. 1, the Center4Life becomes a ghost facility. Often only staff are in the building. Games, for the most part, are discontinued or go forward with less than half a dozen participants. The typical off-season visitor would not be drawn to the Center4Life activities.

By far, the most popular activity is exercise programs. Many exercise participants adhere to the norm — attend for 90 days or less. Exercise is one of the most important activities for our overall well-being. The key is that we exercise, not where we exercise. The Community House is a dream facility for exercise programs due to its design and flexibility. The city could pay instructors and a per participant fee to help defray fixed costs. Nobody loses, everybody wins. The activities increasing in popularity are all out-of-building activities. Examples are off-island trips to the Florida Repertory Theatre and other venues. Kayaking and Sanibel Causeway socials are also popular. The Center4Life managed activities could easily be handled by the staff at the Sanibel Recreation Center. Staffing would still be done by city employees. Change often is uncomfortable, but not always bad.

We feel the driving passion for the members of the Island Seniors is their shared comradery that causes one to join any club. There is no better place for that comradery to continue than in the current Center4Life facility. Really, it would be hard to improve on. Put the Island Seniors completely in charge of the present and future activities desired by its members. That is exactly what the original charter and its founders envisioned.

Only careful analysis and thought will determine the future of the vacant Sanibel Captiva Community Bank building. Its use and/or sale will be one of the more important city council decisions for years to come. We are convinced the best use is not a new Center4Life building for multiple reasons. We love Sanibel; the quality-of-life experiences available are endless. Another multimillion-dollar building will not enhance those experiences.

Tommy and Trudy Williams