“We have one or two historical buildings left. It’s a shame that over a leaky roof we don’t save this place,” Retired Northwest Florida State College Professor Jack Gill told a packed house. He addressed the group at the 100-year-old building commonly referred to as the Valparaiso Senior Center at 268 Glenview Avenue.
But the crowd who gathered on January 31st to discuss the fate of the Valparaiso Senior Center has no expectations of assistance for its preservation from the city, which owns the building.
“We’re not going to get any help from the city; if it were up to them, they would tear this building down,” said Tom Jackley – the site manager of the Valparaiso Senior Center and the organizer of the meeting.
Earlier this month, the Valparaiso City Commission announced that the center may in fact be torn down. According to Jackley, the city commission is waiting on a report from an engineering firm to determine whether or not the building is structurally sound.
The building has a historical legacy – it was built in the early 1920s and has stood on the same plot of land for 100 years.
Meeting attendee Bert Mathis – a lifelong resident of Valparaiso, told the crowd how this building has influenced his life. “This building hosted my sister’s wedding reception.”
Jerry Spence, the son of the late Walter Francis Spence (whom Spence Parkway is named after), talked about how his father went to grade school in the building.
The speakers at the meeting talked about how the Valparaiso City Commission would be finalizing whether the building would be torn down at their upcoming meeting on February 14th. As of the publishing of this article, an agenda for the February 14th meeting has not been published on the city’s website.
The Senior Center’s Role in the Community
“If I didn’t have this place, I would be so very isolated,” said Nancy Craig.
Statistically, Nancy is not alone in Valparaiso. Professor Gill, a city resident, cited the U.S. Census Bureau statistics. “14.4% of the population is 65 or older. Of that number, 8.4% live in poverty.” He suggested that the citizens at the meeting band together to form a non-profit that would buy the building and support it through regular donations. “I’ll pledge the first $1,000,” Gill said. He went on to pledge another $1,000 for repairs. To drive home his point, Gill recited the last stanza of the 80’s television show Cheers, about the importance of a place where everybody knows your name. (add cheers theme song youtube video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h-mi0r0LpXo)
Kathy Dunn, a resident of Niceville who grew up in Valparaiso and still goes to the community center every third Wednesday of the month, highlighted the center’s role for the impoverished seniors of Valparaiso. The weekly hot meal provided at the center “could be the only meal provided to a senior on a fixed income.” She insinuated that the center’s potential was not being utilized by the current city government. “There is revenue to this building if [the city commission] uses it correctly,” she said. “Tell people about [the situation], show up to city hall… you all have a voice – it’s all about whether or not you want to commit the time or the effort.”
“Vote ’em all out”
The next city commission meeting is on February 14th. Many people in attendance at January 31st’s meeting vowed to be there.
Mathis told everyone gathered on January 31st that he believed that “The city wants all seniors to go to Niceville for everything that seniors need. If the city leadership wants to do that – then they all need to go,” he said.
The only contested office in the city is that of Mayor.
Candidate for mayor Patrick Palmer was in attendance and spoke at the meeting – though he was clear to point out he spoke not as a candidate – but as a citizen. The other candidate for mayor, Mayor Brent Smith, was not in attendance at the January 31st meeting.