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Senior center discussion gains strength

All Rosemount's seniors want is a place of their own. Somewhere they can leave a coffee pot running, or sit and read a newspaper. A place they can know will be there for them any day of the week.

They're as close now as they've ever been.

Next week Rosemount City Council members will interview three developers who have submitted proposals for a senior housing facility on the site of the former St. Joseph School. At the direction of council members, all three proposals include space for a new senior center.

That doesn't mean the senior center is a lock for Rosemount's near future. It's possible the development won't materialize at all. But for Rosemount seniors it is a positive step in a long debate.

Rosemount community development director Kim Lindquist said city council members have indicated support for a senior center.

"Certainly, one of their goals is to have that service," Lindquist said. "It's just making that all work (financially)."

Seniors currently have a room available to them at the Rosemount Community Center, but while the sign outside the door says senior center, the space isn't everything they would like it to be. Seniors use the room for card tournaments and craft classes, but they have limited control over when the room is available. They have to put their things away when they go, and if the National Guard soldiers based at the community center need the room, the seniors are out of luck.

"We can't have anything just set out," said Sharon Johnson, a member of the Rosemount Area Seniors who has represented the group at city council meetings. "They just wanted something they could put together, lock up, and if they wanted to go there at different times there would be someone there to give them information."

Johnson said seniors are also looking for someplace that's easier to get to. For some who have trouble getting around it can be a long walk from the community center parking lot to the room the seniors call the Do Drop Inn.

The current space also doesn't have a refrigerator, which means if seniors want to store food they have to run back and forth down the hall. There are no windows, so it's impossible to get fresh air. And the room gets crowded when the senior group holds card tournaments.

Rosemount parks and recreation director Dan Schultz said there hasn't been a lot of discussion yet about what kind of programs a new senior center might offer. He's been waiting until there were more concrete plans available. But he expects to start discussions soon with seniors to talk about what they want and what the city can provide.

Schultz said a senior center could be a positive addition, especially with a senior population that is expected to grow significantly in the years ahead.

"If you look at the amount of activity in Rosemount now and you look at how they are forecasting some of the societal changes, I think you're going to see a lot of people who will potentially soon retire who will have a lot of recreational interests," Schultz said.

Several nearby cities have dedicated senior centers. Apple Valley, Northfield and Lakeville all have one. Farmington's seniors have had their own center for nearly 20 years and moved into the city's empty city hall building last year, doing much of the necessary renovation work themselves and holding fundraisers to pay for the work.

"They really want their own territory where they don't have to lock up the coffee when they leave," Johnson said.

The Rosemount City Council would like to see someone build a senior housing facility on the former school site next to what is now known as the Rosemount Steeple Center. That project could come from the three proposals council members will discuss next week, but Lindquist said there is no guarantee council members will selected any of the projects.

One way or another, Lindquist expects council members to make a decision soon after next week's interviews. If things go smoothly, the city would like to see work start on the project next summer.