Senior citizens voice concerns over dancing locations

Ward 4 Councilor Wayne Johnson and Ward 2 Councilor Jaime Stout discuss concerns over the Hatbox Dance Building and Kiwanis Senior Citizens Center, both of which are used as spots for senior citizen dance groups. 

Senior citizens met with Ward 4 Councilor Wayne Johnson and Ward 2 Councilor Jaime Stout to discuss a range of concerns centered on dancing.

The meeting was sparked by an incident in which the Hatbox facility the seniors typically use for a dance group on Monday afternoons was closed for repairs. The posted letter said the repairs wouldn't be complete until the end of April.

"We knew it was going to be remodeled eventually," said dancer Linda Bayless of the Hatbox Dance Building on South 40th Street. "We just didn't know it was going to happen so suddenly."

That threw into question what would happen with the dance group's upcoming jamboree, which would see other senior citizens groups from other cities and states come to share dances and learn from one another. Johnson assured the gathered seniors that the Dance Building remodeling would be complete by April 1, leaving the space open for the jamboree.

In the meantime, Monday afternoon dancing will continue from 1 p.m. to 2:45 p.m. at the Muskogee Teen Center, 322 Callahan St.

What began as alarm about the Hatbox Dance Building morphed into an opportunity to voice concerns about the other senior citizens' dancing spot — the Kiwanis Senior Citizens Center. While the building is still in use, its future may be limited, Bayless said.

"The facility is in need of some work," Bayless said. "They did a rendering of a proposed remodel, but it was so expensive."

It would be so expensive that a proposed $150,000 from the city, followed by a potential matched grant from the City of Muskogee Foundation, would barely scratch what was needed to bring the building up to speed, Johnson said.

"The building used to be a church, divided up into classrooms, with steps going everywhere," Johnson said. "It's not conducive to what it's being used for."

The proposed new location would be a renovated fire station — Station #3 —on West Okmulgee Avenue. Johnson detailed the new space during the meeting, noting a large open space where fire trucks would have parked and a large, elongated room good for both dancing and other senior citizen groups, like bridge players. The parking next to the building also would be expanded.

"I think the ultimate goal is somewhere that can be your location," Johnson said. "Everyone on the City Council wants to address the needs of the community, especially the seniors."

Bayless said that most of the dance group liked the idea of moving to Station #3.

"We really need a new or remodeled building, and I think the majority of us feel that Station #3 is a good fit," she said. 

Bayless stressed that the new center, whatever form it takes, should be designated as a senior center, however.

"I don't think we need another general community center," Bayless said. "I think Muskogee needs a senior citizen center."

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