Council authorizes $16.4 million bond for new senior center facility

After months of study sessions and planning, the Huntington Beach City Council took two major steps Monday toward making a long-awaited senior center a reality.

Council members voted unanimously to authorize taking out a $16.4 million bond to help pay for the new facility.

The council also voted 6 to 1 instructing the Public Works Department to seek construction bids for the project.

"This is a very significant vote and a long time coming," Councilman Dave Sullivan said before deciding on the bond.

Huntington Beach's existing Rodgers Seniors' Center is likely the worst senior facility in Orange County, Sullivan said.

Many residents have complained about deteriorating ceilings, non-functioning air conditioning and broken lavatories at the building. In contrast, Sullivan said the facility's programs, especially its transportation services, are among the best in the county.

"This is just a wonderful day where our facilities are going to equal what we provide our citizens," he said.

The new senior center is expected to cost about $21.5 million. Officials plan to break ground in the west side of Central Park by the end of this year.

Most of the funding will come from the $16.4 million bond. The city also plans to use about $4.5 million from the general fund and the infrastructure fund to make up the difference.

Officials expect to collect another $2 million from fundraising and donations.

Finance Director Lori Ann Farrell said debt service on the 20-year bond will cost about $1,156,600 annually to cover an interest rate of about 3.5% to 4.5%.

The first year of debt service will be budgeted into the 2014-2015 proposed budget, Farrell said.

Huntington Beach seniors have long called for a new facility in the city, but two issues had stood in the way: funding and a lawsuit.

With money identified, the only risk officials had was whether longstanding litigation would impede the project.

The Parks Legal Defense Fund, a citizens' group dedicated to protecting open space, sued the city in 2008 arguing that an environmental impact report for the project was insufficient and that park fees collected from a previous development could not be used for the senior center.

Council members' fears were slightly eased in July when California's 4th District Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the city. A judge determined that Huntington Beach fulfilled a court order to prepare a second environmental impact report.

Another lawsuit regarding the subsequent environmental impact report is still pending, but City Atty. Jennifer McGrath said she believes the court will rule in favor of the city again by October.

Councilwoman Connie Boardman said she is also confident about results of the second lawsuit, but she asked Farrell and her team what would happen if the lawsuit did impact the project.

Officials told council members that it could use funds from the project to pay down the bond or it could use the money for another project.

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