After selling its old downtown location at 411 Dunsmuir St. last year, the 411 Seniors Centre Society has a comfortable $8 million resting in its coffers. It's once again offering seniors' services at a new location near Main and Terminal, but the future of the group-and what it will do with its newfound wealth-remains uncertain.
The centre operated since 1977 at the Dunsmuir Street location, offering community support, recreation programs and other services for seniors. In 2006, the provincial government gave the society the building. Society board president Elsie Dean said the building requires extensive repairs. "It has to be gutted. It has open asbestos, it has mold, the plumbing is all gone, the heating's gone, it leaked in the basement, the north wall leaked," said Dean. "And so we had to sell. I know a lot of people were terribly upset. But there was no one coming forward with money for us to do this."
After selling the building to local property-management firm CRS Group, the society is re-establishing services for seniors in a new, smaller location at 333 Terminal Ave., one block east of the Main Street SkyTrain Station. Unlike its previous building, the centre is not on the ground floor, but executive director Sandra Gebhardt insists the new venue will still be accessible to seniors with limited mobility. "It's a multiuse facility with sufficient elevators, and we don't see any accessibility issues at all," said Gebhardt.
Former 411 centre member Sheila Foley expressed concern with the society's volunteer-run board of directors' ability to handle the $8 million windfall. "I don't think they had the wherewithal to understand... what was getting sold, and who was getting what, and the benefits they were giving up," she said. Foley often attended yoga classes at the previous downtown location, but does not plan on renewing her membership at the new centre because it's too far from her home. "It is a big undertaking. They need somebody on the board who can see the big picture, and steer them in the right direction," Foley added.
According to Gebhardt, the new Terminal Avenue location is a temporary one with a four-year lease. The society will continue to look for a new setting where the centre can establish itself permanently. Gebhardt and Dean said that due to their concerns about the current Vancouver real estate market, neither felt it would be prudent to re-invest in a new property right away.
The board's current priority, according to Dean, is to try to invest the $8 million wisely so that it can generate interest.
"We don't have any strings attached to the money," said Dean. "The only thing we are concerned with is that the money belongs to the seniors in our province."
Foley hopes the move to Terminal will allow the centre to grow its membership. "Around Main and Terminal, there are lots of apartment buildings, so I think it will attract a lot of new members," said Foley.
Gebhardt agreed. "[Nearby] are areas that have been identified as areas that require services for seniors, and have a strong seniors population."
The new location will continue to offer a multitude of programs, including language classes, yoga and Zumba fitness, help with filling out forms and referrals to help seniors facing tax or housing issues. "The information referral supports people who are having challenges navigating a system, any system, be it disability, health, or income tax," said Dean. "We'll be having workshops on holistic health and good eating, that's a big one for us, too."
As for the society's future at a permanent location, Dean was uncertain. "We don't know. We have no plans at the moment. We have only just got the money a month ago," said Dean. "So, give us time. We're getting advice from the community, we're discussing with lots of people the possibilities, and we hope we'll be successful."