The Northshore Senior Center (NSC) is ready to move past “band-aiding,” according to CEO Brooke Knight.
Earlier this year, the Northshore Parks and Recreations Service Area (NPRSA), which owns the center’s primary Bothell location and its nearby wellness center, placed a levy on the November ballot to cover repairs.
Before the levy was put on the ballot, an independent assessment showed that it would cost $4.7 million to cover necessary fixes on the Bothell properties. Major renovations include roof replacement, updated HVAC systems and new windows.
Founded in 1972, the NSC offers programs and services geared toward seniors and people with disabilities.
“We’ve been doing our best to keep up with everything,” Knight said. “But obviously, this is something we have absolutely no capacity to do. And it would come at the cost of our seniors if we didn’t.”
Knight said it was decided by the NPRSA, which doesn’t have a resource for maintenance needs in place, that a levy would be the best funding option after considering a handful of alternatives. A grant presented too many challenges: those typically go to nonprofits, and though NSC is a nonprofit, it is not the tenant, nor the owner, of the main building. The NPRSA was established as a special taxing district in 1988, for the sole purpose of supporting the properties used for the NSC’s Bothell locations. And while a fundraiser could be a feasible undertaking, it likely would not have the capacity to raise the amount required for the restorations.
“That’s not even going to cover one of our repairs,” Knight said.
The center has acquired some financial support: it received a $500,000 award from the previous biennium’s state capital budget, for example. But while this helped, it only covered a fraction of the long-term fixes, she said.
The levy, which will be voted on by the public in November, seemed like the best option. As it stands, it will cost the owner of a $500,000 home $20 a year, or 4 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, for six consecutive years.
Campaigning for the levy
At the end of September, it was announced that Jim McAuliffe and Rosemary McAuliffe would be serving as the co-chairs of the campaign of the ballot measure, which will appear as the NPRSA Proposition No. 1 Maintenance and Restoration Levy to voters.
Jim, a retiree, is a frequent visitor to the center, grabbing a coffee and catching up with friends there almost every morning. He’s also a regular attendee of the facility’s bi-monthly, all-you-can-eat pancake breakfast event.
Rosemary currently holds Pos. 3 on the Bothell City Council, and has worked in public service for more than 40 years. Aside from Jim’s regular presence at the center, Rosemary had a previous connection to the NSC. She said that, about a year or two ago, she had participated in a program where she supported seniors wanting to participate in community task work.
“They both really care about older adults and people with disabilities,” Knight said about the McAuliffes. “So it just seemed like a natural fit.”
As co-chairs of the levy, the McAuliffes have been tasked with attending various community meetings, usually alongside Knight, to explain the intricacies of the levy to the public, as well as phone banking and doorbelling. By her estimate, Rosemary has knocked on the doors of about 100 homes as of Oct. 1.
Rosemary noted an urgency for the levy’s passage after the recent closure of the Redmond Senior Center due to necessary structural reassessment.
“We don’t want to see that happen to Bothell,” Rosemary said.
The McAuliffes have faced some challenges as the campaign’s co-chairs. Rosemary said that while the people she’s talked to have been supportive, many people are misled by the title. Because it highlights the NPRSA rather than the NSC, people don’t immediately realize that the levy will be affecting the center. There are also several other ballot measures featuring the “Prop. 1” moniker. And although the levy has been endorsed by the city councils of Kenmore and Woodinville, Bothell’s council, in contrast, did not unanimously support the proposed measure, citing an unease about setting a precedent.
“I am hoping each council member endorses individually,” Rosemary said in an email after her initial interview with the Reporter.
Knight said that while neither the NSC nor NPRSA have solidified backups by way of funding if the levy isn’t passed, the center will not be shutting down as a result.
“We’re not considering closing,” Knight said. “We’re not in imminent danger, thankfully. And we’re not gonna give up. So we will keep trying multiple tactics and strategies until we figure out a way to solve the problem.”
Knight added that if the ballot measure falls through, the center might try to attain additional state funds. There have also been discussions as to whether it would be feasible to turn the building’s ownership over to the center as an organization. While Knight said the center couldn’t currently manage this if it were to be immediately decided, it could be sustained in the future. The advantage a nonprofit has, according to Knight, is that it can engage in capital fundraising campaigns and raise funds in ways the government or a special taxing district like the NPRSA cannot. But even if the center won’t close if the levy doesn’t succeed, Knight noted that there will likely be noticeable aftereffects.
“There is the potential that there will be real impacts to programs and services,” she said.
Rosemary and Knight invoked the importance of the center not just regionally, but generationally.
“It’s the heart of our community,” Rosemary said.
“The senior center serves both seniors and people with disabilities and their family caregivers. How many of us don’t fall into one of those categories?” Knight said.