Rejection of former church site leaves seniors puzzled, hurt

  • Anderson County Office on Aging Director Cherie Phillips oversees the preparation of a Christmas meal Tuesday morning at the Anderson County Senior Citizens Center on Edgewood Avenue in Clinton. From left are Phillips, Gladys Tsimbidis, Jesse Bunch and Jim Mayes. - Ken Leinart

  • Cherie Phillips stands next to Barbara Heffermill and Victoria Swanson (left), two seniors who take an East Tennessee Human Resources bus to the Anderson County Senior Citizens Center every day during the week. Heffermill and Swanson live with family, but all the family members work and the two can’t be left alone at home all day. “They won’t eat during the day if they don’t come here,” Phillips said. - Ken Leinart

Director of the Anderson County Office on Aging Cherie Phillips has been crying.

But there is still a meal to be prepared, Christmas packages to make ready, and trays for shut-ins to be delivered.

There are still services that need to be provided.

Phillips said there will be more tears shed as Tuesday goes along, as senior citizens come into the 2,400-square-foot senior citizens center on Edgewood Avenue in Clinton and learn that this building is all they will probably get.

“A lot of them can’t get the channel to watch the meetings,” Phillips said, referring to ACTV, or Chanel 95, which broadcasts the Anderson County Commission meetings.

“They won’t know until they come in.”

Anderson County Commission rejected a proposal Monday night to purchase the former Lifepoint Church in Mariner Pointe to use as a senior center. The option of using the old National Guard Armory on Charles Seviers Boulevard in Clinton is still an option, but Phillips doesn’t see that coming about either.

“It will be two, three years before we could move there,” she said. “And I don’t think the county will put up the money to fix that place.”

She pauses, voice choked with emotion.

“We have seniors who have been waiting for a long time and they may not be around when we do get a new place,” she said. “It’s not fair. We have seniors who have been paying taxes for 40, 50, 60 years. Where’s their tax money going? I have one woman who is 96 years old and she has been paying taxes since she was 17. What are her taxes paying for?”

The feeling is one of abandonment — a feeling that no one is really paying attention to the needs of 27,000 taxpaying senior citizens who don’t just “use” the services of the senior center: They need them.

The purchase of the former Lifepoint Church would have a minimum effect on county taxpayers. Yes, there would be cost, but Anderson County Mayor Terry Frank outlined several options to the commission Monday night that would have kept any impact to a minimum.

“And we were going to get $250,000 from (Lt. Gov, and State Sen.) Randy McNally,” Phillips said.

Phillips said she believes the debacle that was the purchase of 205 Main as a senior center is a big factor in the commission’s rejection of the Mariner Pointe site.

The county purchased that property for $600,000 for use as senior center only to find mold and other problems.

“You know what? 205 Main is not the seniors’ fault,” she said.

Many of the “concerns” voiced by commissioners during Monday night’s meeting should be concerns voiced about the current location of the senior center.

Parking is limited, and Phillips said seniors have fallen as they’ve walked to the building after having to park on the grass.

Concerns about turning in to Mariner Pointe off Tennessee 61 have been voiced. Phillips said nobody has voiced concerns about the narrow roadway leading to the current center.

“And it’s not going to be any better getting in and out of the old armory site,” she said. “That’s a four-lane highway, too.”

It is, in fact, the same highway.

As far as residents in Mariner Pointe not wanting a senior center at the entrance to their subdivision, Phillips said there are at least 10 seniors from that subdivision who attend the center now and all she has ever heard is that the residents there hope the center is located at the former church.

“But the residents who don’t want us there are calling a commissioner who doesn’t even represent their district to say they don’t want a senior center?” she asked.

Since the search for a new home for a senior center started, there have been four commissioners who have actually visited the building on Edgewood Avenue.

Phillips said Jerry White (District 5), Steve Mead (District 6), Robert Jameson (District 2), and Joshua Anderson (District 3), have visited the center and asked questions. Robert McKamey (District 5) is a regular.

“I had one commissioner sit in my office and look me in the eye and tell me he would vote for it,” Phillips said. “Then he voted ‘no.’

“I don’t know if we can survive this. We’re already under threat to lose a lot of funding,” she said. For example, she said they may lose funding because they don’t have room for an exercise class.

Of the 2,400 square feet of the building, about half is used as part kitchen and part storage area.

The Edgewood Avenue location serves “at least 150” seniors a day and the center provides services for about 6,500 seniors, which Phillips said doesn’t scratch the surface.

“There are 27,000 senior citizens in Anderson County,” she said. “Of the 16-county region the Anderson County Office on Aging is a part of, only Knox County and Blount County have more senior citizens.”

Phillips said every county surrounding Anderson County has a better center. “And several are poorer counties, too. They said the Oak Ridge Center cost $2 million, but we still get at least 40 seniors from Oak Ridge who come here because we offer a service they don’t in Oak Ridge. Mainly, the meals.”

On this Tuesday the center is planning to provide Christmas for 300 seniors and an untold amount of meals on wheels for shut-ins.

The center is stacked with boxes, Christmas packages, food, and other assorted items. People have to walk single file from one room to the next.

“There’s not one of them (commissioners) who would work under these circumstances,” Phillips said. “Commission basically said our senior citizens aren’t worth $500,000 to them.”

Phillips said it is hard to stay within the rules sometimes. The Edgewood Avenue site has a maximum capacity of 40.

“We break that every day,” she said.

And she has watched as cars have pulled up to the center, not found a place to park, and turned around and left.

“And I ask myself, ‘What service did they need? Was it a meal? Did they need help with their insurance?’ But I’ll never know. And that just breaks my heart.”

Phillips said in an ideal world, Anderson County taxpayers would have been asked to vote on the senior center.

And that’s another thing Anderson County’s 27,000 senior citizens do: Vote.