After nearly 45 years of service to the community and its participants, the Merrill Community Enrichment Center is ready for a change.
The first senior center in Merrill, known as the “Senior Drop-In Center,” opened in 1971 in the former city hall building on East 2nd Street. In 1977, when city hall transferred to its present location, the center followed and opened in the basement of city hall.
When Enrichment Center director Tammie Mrachek stepped in for the retired Jane Deau last summer, one of her immediate goals was to begin searching for a larger and more suitable location for the center.
Since then, the first-year director is optimistic based on the support she has received for the idea of a new center, but cites cost as the key hurdle to progress.
“I’m very pleased with the support we have received from city officials,” Mrachek explains. “City administrator Johnson and Kathy Unertl have been very supportive and are cognizant of our need for a new location as is our Committee on Aging. But it all comes down to finances. Everything does. We just don’t have the funding we need.”
Mrachek lists several factors which led to her plight for relocation, but safety tops the list.
“Above all else, I want our participants to be safe and comfortable when visiting the center. I feel we could provide a safe, conducive environment than we are right now, being located in the basement,” Mrachek adds.
Amidst the many safety concerns Mrachek mentions are limited access and exit to the center as well as limited parking within close proximity to the center.
“On a busy day, some of our visitors may have to walk a considerable distance. I would like to avoid that,” she adds.
Other concerns Mrachek has of the center’s current location include limited activity space and the lack of windows in the center.
“One of our primary goals for the center is to expand our services into the community. We would love to be able to conduct multiple activities at the same time. We would also like the opportunity to work with various community groups and clubs. As of right now, we just don’t have the space. When we have our community meal for example, we do not have room to run any other activity.”
The Enrichment Center’s meal program was made possible due to the generosity of the Bierman Family Foundation.
Thanks to the family’s donation, the Merrill Community Enrichment Center provides a community meal on three Thursdays each month.
With the help of volunteers, donations and wise shopping, the center has fed as many as 80 people with a tasty yet nutritionally balanced meal, in a cost effective manner. Leftovers from the meal are then delivered to HAVEN and in the winter months, meals are delivered to community members who are unable to leave their homes.
The Bierman Family has also donated funding used to purchase a new bus for the center, which has since enabled participants to visit other areas both within and outside the community.
“The bottom line is, the center is no longer adequate for the population we serve,” Mrachek said. “Our vision has changed over the last 44 years. Statistics show 50% of our population here in Lincoln County is aged 35 and older. That means we have a growing population of individuals who may be interested in our services and activities we offer.”
Currently, Mrachek is considering all available options.
“The challenge is finding an existing facility in Merrill, which would accommodate our needs.”
However, Mrachek is quick to add the center is still very open to moving to an existing location, if a suitable location is found.
The other option is the construction of a brand new facility, and thanks to the help of Wausau based Becher-Hoppe Architects, a conceptual site plan has been drawn for a new facility.
“The city works with Becher Hoppe on a variety of things,” Mrachek said. “In June we defined our need for a new facility and were approved to be on the capital budget. Cost is an issue either way. Moving to an existing location is the more cost effective option, with an estimated cost to be under a million dollars. A brand new facility would cost around two million.”
The current facility measures approximately 7,200 square feet, according to Mrachek. The goal for a different facility would be between 10-12,000 square feet.
Although there are many amenities Mrachek would like to see in a new center, she cites a larger dining area, a multi-purpose room and separate areas for crafts and fitness as the most essential.
“Many of our visitors enjoy craft work and sewing, so some type of craft area would be a priority,” she said. “A safe and comfortable place to exercise is also important to us and to our visitors. Whether it be a walking track or an exercise room, I would like to have some type of exercise area.”
Key requirements for a different location on Mrachek’s list include handicap accessibility, ample exits and the area be located on one main level to avoid the need for stairs or elevators.
“Ultimately, I would like to see an enrichment center that is highly visible to the community, welcoming and able to adequately serve our visitors.” Mrachek adds. “I know this will not be cheap by any means, but while we search for the best option, we are also seeking grants and other funding sources to help with the cost. We are prepared to do whatever it takes to make this happen.”