Saying they are tired of broken promises, 20 senior citizens rose up from their seats at the Board of Estimates meeting yesterday, demanding improvements to the Waxter Center, the city’s premier senior activity facility.
The seniors stood silently as Lester Buster, president of the center’s advisory council, told Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and other city officials that the facility has been grossly neglected and in poor repair.
Buster complained of bathrooms without stall walls – “that’s both for men and women” – and said the city has been promising to make repairs for years. His remarks led to a round of affirmative head-nodding by seniors in the audience.
His comments caught the mayor off-guard – the item before the board was approval of a $30,000-a-year lease of Waxter’s third floor to the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Community Center of Baltimore (GLCCB).
Rawlings-Blake questioned Steve Sharkey, director of General Service, about why seniors were not included in discussions of the lease. “They [General Services] should have done outreach ahead of time,” the mayor said, adding, “You know how much I care about the Waxter Center.”
City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young said he has been getting complaints about the center’s shabby condition for at least two years. “I was told some of the things [renovations] were done and they weren’t done,” he told Sharkey.
In 2012, a spokesman for Health Commissioner Oxiris Barbot announced that $700,000 in state and city funds would be used to renovate six public bathrooms, install new carpets, improve the swimming pool and upgrade the lighting system.
Sharkey told the board that those and other improvements will come with a $1.4 million planned upgrade of the center’s elevator, swimming pool, gym and bathrooms in the future. He did not give a date when the renovations would begin, but agreed to report back to the board in six months on the progress made.
Asked at her weekly media availability why improvements weren’t made to the center earlier, Rawlings-Blake said, “Let’s just put everything into context. You know we’ve been trying to work our way out of the Great Recession. The budgets I have had as mayor had significant deficits, and we worked very hard to stay on top of the maintenance of our buildings while at the same time knowing that we have been asked to contract the budget year after year after year.”
“Unfortunately,” she continued, “that building [the Waxter Center] and several others have had delayed maintenance because of the budget shortfalls. We realize we have to do better and as we grow out of the Great Recession, we are looking for ways to maximize the use of the building get get additional resources to invest in the upkeep in this building.”
Asked why the bathrooms weren’t fixed as part of routine maintenance, she said, “There was plenty of maintenance that was done, that was not.”
Gay Lesbian Community Center
Leasing Waxter’s third-floor is part of her administration’s strategy to improve the facility, she said. The GLCCB plans to use the space to provide services and outreach programs and use the facility on some weekends and evenings.
In his comments to the board, Buster said the GLCCB’s plan to include teenagers in his programming could cause problems.
“Usually teenagers and older people don’t get along too well,” he said, adding that the 60,000-square-foot facility has been strictly reserved for seniors (as well as offices for city senior services) since it was opened more than 30 years ago.