Lots of folks expressed concern when news circulated recently that a shiny new Kidville, a franchise shop that provides kids’ classes and parties, had moved into the Eileen Duggan Senior Center on Court Street across from Carroll Park. It’s not so much that the nice new kids’ center has arrived that has people upset and feeling badly but that the seniors currently have no place to congregate.
For 39 years, hundreds of seniors have visited the Eileen Duggan Senior Center every day – and come from far and wide — for $2 hot lunches, bingo and games, gossip and camaraderie, heating and/or air-conditioning, and even a computer lab and daily exercise class. Talk to many seniors on the street and they’ll tell you to catch them in the senior center on any afternoon.
But rents on Court Street have been skyrocketing, and the city-and-state-funded senior center couldn’t keep up.
According to Max Minauro, Executive Director of the senior center, the rent went from $11,000 five years ago to $15,000 per month last year.
“We were on the chopping block for some time,” Minauro says.
Right now, the seniors have no place to go.
It’s the perfect symbolism: kids moving in, old-timers moving out.
Luckily, there is a somewhat silver lining to this story, as Minauro tells South Brooklyn Post.
When Kidville signed a lease for the space and started renovations this summer, the seniors moved temporarily into St. Paul’s Episcopal Church on Clinton and Carroll (the church donated the space). The church housed the seniors for five months, before Cobble Hill Ballet moved in.
Meanwhile, as the seniors were looking for a new rental (though he’d found a few good options the search was nearly impossible along Court Street due to prices the landlords were asking, Minauro says) the center and the owner of the building came to an agreement.
The landlord is now renovating the basement space in the old center with a new kitchen and a handicapped-equipped bathroom. Before winter, the space will re-open as a new facility for the senior center.
Minauro says there should be adequate space for the seniors’ activities, and the center will maintain its offices on the floor above Kidville. The elevator in the building will ferry the seniors up and down.
Local senior leader, Cecilia Cacace, says many seniors are afraid of elevators.
But Minauro says it’s a very good compromise.
With the move from the center’s former three-floor rental to two, the center was able to cut expenses “in half,” Minauro says. “Every aspect of that is easier to manage,” he says.
The center operates on a budget of around $400,000 per year, provided by the city and state. The landlord is paying for the new construction.
“He wanted us here,” Minauro says. “We pay our bills.”
The center had lost a lot of members over the years, Minauro says, as many were local area renters who couldn’t afford rent increases themselves, or simply decided to go live with younger family members.
Not long ago, around 110 seniors a day would come to Eileen Duggan; more recently it’s about 75, Minauro says. On snow days, just 60 will show up.
“This is the best thing we could have done,” Minauro says about the new space. “It was dismal and dark at first, but now I’m starting to see some daylight and some color.
“The area isn’t the way it was. Young kids are moving in with their own kids. That’s why Kidville is going to work.”