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Ishpeming Senior Center building’s days were numbered

During a special meeting on Tuesday, the Ishpeming City Council voted unanimously to close the Ishpeming Senior Center, at 324 Pine St., due to safety concerns.

“The council voted to comply with the orders of Marquette County Building official Paul Knox to close the senior center,” Ishpeming Mayor Karl Lehmann said in a phone interview.

According to a letter from Knox to the city dated Sept. 4, he inspected the structure to determine whether it presents a fire hazard or is “otherwise dangerous to the safety of persons or property,” at the city’s request.

Knox stated in the letter that he relied on the International Property Maintenance Code to determine the condition of the structure.

“Upon review of the RG Designs May 18th 2015 Property Condition Report, follow-up letter dated July 31, 2019, and my August 26, 2019 inspection, it is determined that the structure is an unsafe structure,” Knox’s letter states, “as defined by the IPMC, and therefore meets the definition of blight … As a result of my determination, the structure must be condemned in accordance with IPMC Section 108, Unsafe Structures and Equipment.”

In a report accompanying the letter, Knox cites “Blocked aisles and passageways, walking surfaces warped and do not provide adequate means of egress; concrete floor is displaced causing trip hazards throughout the structure creating trip hazards in egress path; interior bearing wall carrying floor system of story above compromised, connection beams dislodges and partially detached, vertical and horizontal cracks evident in wall coverings indicating failure of interior partition walls.”

Lehmann said the city has been working “diligently” with senior center officials to find an acceptable alternative location, including the newly-renovated Phelps Square.

“One of the options was Phelps and we have explored others,” Lehmann said, “but not deeply because there are not that many options that we were aware of.”

Ishpeming Senior Center Director Elyse Bertucci said in a phone interview that the Greater Ishpeming Commission on Aging had not met as of press time Wednesday, and she was unsure where the facility would move to.

“We are going to solve the problem the best we can to make sure that the seniors we serve do not have a disruption in services,” Bertucci said. “At this time it is completely up in the air. We actually have a lease with the city up until 2021.”

In August, the council adopted a resolution and approved submission of the $2.2 million grant application to the Michigan Economic Development Corp., which administers the Community Development Block Grant program.

The county inspection, Lehmann said, was a requirement of the grant application.

Although this development is not an unexpected one, it doesn’t make the result any less devastating to those who frequent the facility. When we spend a lot of time in any given place, we begin to establish a connection to it, and it becomes much more than just four walls. We trust there will be a speedy resolution to the vacancy of a senior center in Ishpeming, and its former guests will soon be able to take part in the activities the center offered, especially during the winter months. While the building certainly was in bad shape, it will still be missed by its regular visitors. If there is anything good to come of this situation, it will be a safer and more suitable location for guests.