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Seniors may lose activity centre if city decides not to fund move

Victoria seniors are in danger of losing their downtown activity centre because a proposed move by Silver Threads to the CNIB building on Richmond Road has been deemed too expensive by city staff.
Coun. Lisa Helps is frustrated that the issue is landing on this council's lap "at the 11th hour."

Victoria seniors are in danger of losing their downtown activity centre because a proposed move by Silver Threads to the CNIB building on Richmond Road has been deemed too expensive by city staff.

The seniors’ organization maintains that not only are the costs reasonable but any additional expenditures should be covered under an agreement reached a decade ago when the city sold the seniors centre’s former Fisgard Street building to make way for the new Capital Regional District headquarters.

At least one city councillor is wondering if the city just shouldn’t decide today to pony up the additional funds given that the city made “a historical series of bad decisions” that now threaten to leave Silver Threads without a Victoria location.

Silver Threads, a not-for-profit society, has been in “temporary” digs in city-leased storefronts on Douglas Street since the city booted the organization out of its former city-owned building a decade ago so it could sell it to the CRD.

With the lease on the existing Douglas Street Silver Threads building due to expire in September and the city not wanting to renew, the organization was asked to look for “more suitable and cost effective facilities.”

Silver Threads thought it had found that with an offer to lease 5,200 sq. ft. in the CNIB building at 2340 Richmond Rd.

The city currently pays $122,389 a year for the Silver Threads storefront lease and building operating costs. Costs of the CNIB facility would be $147,200 plus a one-time grant of $200,000 for moving and improvements.

While the proposed facility meets the “more suitable” criteria, it has not met the “more cost effective” test as annually it is $24,811 more than the current budget and requires a one-time grant,” a city staff report says.

Silver Threads executive director Tracy Ryan said it was told by staff in 2013 to start looking for a new building. Then, lease and operating costs were $184,187 before the city unilaterally cancelled the lease on one of its three storefronts.

The CNIB lease costs of about $147,000 is less than what Silver Threads was paying when it was told to relocate.

In 2003, the city promised to hold in reserve an estimated $500,000 from the sale of the former Silver Threads building “to assist, as required, in funding the temporary and permanent relocation of the Silver Threads Society.”

While Silver Threads says that money should now be available to cover the $200,000 one-time grant, city staff say the lease and operating costs for the past decade (which total $1.6 million) have more than eaten away any $500,000 reserve.

They recommend the city’s funding remain at $122,389 and the additional request not be funded.

That would sound the death knell for Silver Threads downtown, Ryan said.

“I don’t think we would continue to operate a centre in Victoria.”

Coun. Lisa Helps, frustrated the issue is landing on this council’s lap “at the 11th hour,” said the situation appears to be the result of years of a failure to come up with an action plan and stick with it.

Helps would prefer to see Silver Threads remain downtown, but that may no longer be an option.

“Going back to 2004, they should have said: ‘Temporary for two years,’ and then that would have put some fire under everyone’s butts to find a new location within a reasonable time frame. So it might be a mistake that we have to pay for,” Helps said.

Ryan said the CNIB building is a better fit for the seniors organization. The Jubilee neighbourhood has a higher proportion of seniors than downtown and does not have a community centre. The downtown location has limited parking and is not serviced by handyDART.

“And that area that we’re in has changed a lot. We’ve got different neighbours and it’s not a safe-feeling block and it’s not somewhere where it’s really comfortable for seniors to come so it really is time for us to make a move,” Ryan said.

With the less-than-ideal facilities on Douglas Street, the Silver Threads membership has suffered and its numbers are only a fraction of the Saanich Silver Threads.

Ryan said the new location offers an auditorium, something that is impossible to find in the downtown core.

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