The College Park City Council discussed the possibility of renting office space for the city’s Seniors Program staff during a work session Tuesday night — a concept met with enthusiasm among council members, though some challenged the proposed location and costs of the space.
Staff employed by the Seniors Program — housed under the city’s Youth, Family and Senior Services Department — currently provides services such as case management to as many as 100 seniors, said Youth, Family and Senior Services Director Kiaisha Barber. They currently work out of three locations: Attick Towers and Spellman House Apartments, facilities where a large community of seniors live, and the United Methodist Church.
However, Attick Towers has indicated the city’s Housing Authority needs the space the Seniors Program staff currently occupies in the building. And at the United Methodist Church, program staff share a space with a new preschool founded by the Children’s Guild, which can ask them to vacate if needed, according to city documents.
“It’s really been a strain on the staff prior to the pandemic,” Barber said.
The rental space the city is considering for the program is located on Rhode Island Avenue, next to Gailes Violin Shop, said Barber. According to city documents, rent would come out to $1,500 per month, including utilities, snow and trash removal and more. The landlords indicated they would cover costs for outfitting the space if the city entered into a five year lease, according to the documents. Otherwise, the city would have to cover outfitting costs.
Ideally, Barber said the program would like the space to be outfitted with at least two private offices and three additional partitioned or cubicle-type work areas.
District 3 council member Robert Day questioned whether seniors would be better off than they are now if the program were housed in the rental space under consideration, rather than in the two apartment buildings where many of them currently live — Spellman House and Attick Towers are located closer to the Berwyn community, while the projected rental space is near the edge of North College Park.
But Barber said that renting a specific place for staff would be a great to expand people’s knowledge of the program while still serving the city’s seniors.
“Having a central office location or an office offsite I think would open up the availability and possibility for other residents also to utilize and come visit the staff for services,” Barber said.
Day’s colleague, District 3 council member John Rigg, agreed that having a central location for the program would be beneficial. However, he was similarly wary of the proposed site: it’s location on the city’s northern edge, he said, might make it inconvenient for people to visit. Instead, he proposed placing the program in the unused space that will be included in the new city hall.
“I’m reluctant to just go along with additional space rental, especially in the context of a compressed budget, when we have new office space that’s going to be coming online in the next year in City Hall,” Rigg said.
Responding to Rigg’s concerns, Interim City Manager Bill Gardiner noted that the currently unused space in the city hall would likely become occupied in the future as the city’s administration grew. A downtown location on the second floor for senior services also didn’t seem beneficial, he added.
Barber agreed, saying downtown College Park wouldn’t be the most ideal place for senior services to be offered, and mentioned that the location the city is considering has wheelchair access in the back of the building.
District 1 council member Fazlul Kabir said that the council has to consider the fact that — unlike many others — the city’s senior services staff cannot work from home. They have to travel within the city to provide services, which has become more difficult with the pandemic, Kabir said.
Newly elected District 2 council member Llatetra Brown Esters acknowledged that coordinating work across three separate locations seemed difficult. Still, she noted the city’s need to be fiscally responsible and supported looking into other avenues, such as a shorter lease time frame.
District 4 council member Maria Mackie and District 1 council member Kate Kennedy also raised concerns that the new space wouldn’t allow for the seniors program to grow, though Barber said growth would still be possible in the proposed office.
City Attorney Suellen Ferguson, meanwhile, said the city could consider negotiating a shorter rental period for the space. The council decided to discuss the office further in the future as more information becomes available.
“It’s exciting to think about the future and I think this could be a bridge to something even greater with the Youth, Family and Senior services programs,” Mayor Patrick Wojahn said.