Community group works to build intergenerational community center

By Tracy Ouellette

SLN Staff

Earlier this year, the group Operation Greater East Troy changed its name to United Greater East Troy to more accurately reflect the community group’s mission to build an intergenerational community center for people in the tri-Troy area and beyond.

The group’s tagline is “People, Place, Purpose” to represent its ultimate goal of providing a center for everyone.

The idea for the center has been three years in the making, starting with Theresa and Tony Barrett, who saw a need in the community. About two years ago, Operation Greater East Troy was formed to explore the possibility of building a privately funded community center and library. While looking into the idea, the group saw a need for more senior living spaces in the area.

“When we started this, the focus was on a library and community center, but as conversations continued the deficiency in senior living became clear and we looked at combining these things,” said project manager Lloyd Sineni in an interview June 15.

The group researched intergenerational communities around the country and saw a growing trend toward combining services for all ages in a single facility.

“As we analyzed what we need in our town we realized we needed a fully integrated intergenerational community, which would be more than just a facility,” Sineni said. “We needed to provide robust programming to tie it all together in East Troy and systemize it through this center.”

As the group continued to meet over the last two years, the vision began to take form and starting last week, UGET began presenting their idea to the area municipal boards in the Town of East Troy, Town of Troy and on June 18, the Village of East Troy.

The plan now includes having a library, community center and 50 assisted living units built in the area. The group is also hoping to have the East Troy Family Resource Center and the East Troy Food Pantry on the site, if possible.

“In addition, there are a lot of services in the state and county that we’re not taking advantage of that we’d like to give a place to so we have a central place for anyone, of any age, who needs assistance,” UGET member Terry Dignan said Friday.

“It’s the programming that they’re looking for outposts to run out of and we’re looking to be one of those outposts,” Tony Barrett added.

The group has two main goals, Dignan said. First, it is planning to build the center with no new local tax revenue.

“We’re not asking the towns or village for any money,” Dignan said.

Second, the group wants the community to run the center.

“We would really like to get this done so we always have this controlled by a group of local citizens, make it a 501(c)3 non-profit with an elected board,” Dignan said.

“If the community owns and runs this and make the decisions it will always be what the community wants,” Tony Barrett said.

To fund the center, the group is looking at fundraising options and a loan through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

“Before the end of the month, we’re going to be sitting down with potential development partners and we will choose one soon,” Dignan said. “We will probably go through HUD with an insured mortgage which lets you borrow a significant amount for something like this and allow you to pay it back over a 40-year time period.”

Presenting to the board

At the June 18 Village Board meeting, Trustee Matt Johnson questioned Dignan to the financial feasibility of the project when UGET presented its plans to the board.

“I’m going to play the devil’s advocate here,” Johnson said. “If the need for senior housing is so high in the area, why hasn’t a for-profit not built it?”

Dignan said funding for a non-profit senior living center was more cost effective when obtained through government programs.

“Walworth County Housing Authority bonds are double tax exempt and we’re looking at a 3 to 3.5 percent interest rate on the mortgage. A for-profit is looking at 6 percent. Also, and I probably shouldn’t say this to this board, but a 501(c)3 like this is usually double tax exempt on property taxes.”

Dignan went on to explain that’s how The Heritage in East Troy keeps its tax-exempt status, but providing at least 20 percent of its housing for low income residents.

Dignan also said The Heritage was in full support of the project because the need for senior living was so great, it has a lengthy waiting list.

Village Board President Scott Seager asked if UGET would be willing to work with a “private entity” who was interested in funding the center, but wasn’t as interested in using the site the group has its eyes on – the Chester Byrnes property.

Dignan said many members believe it to be the “perfect spot” for the project. However, they do have a couple other sites in the area if they are unable to come to an agreement with the East Troy Community School District for purchase of the property.

Seager asked for the groups thoughts on the unnamed “private entity” who was interested in building and if they wanted to put the center elsewhere, would UGET be willing to do that.

Dignan said the goal was to “get it done” and they would be willing to work with anyone who was interested, but wanted to guarantee that the center would always be community run and voiced concern that the “private entity” might want control.

Johnson asked how the situation with the library would work with the village staffing the library and Dignan said the group envisioned the library board and village maintaining control and leasing the library space from them.

Dignan also pointed out that the senior living would provide volunteers for the library because that’s what grandparents love to do, read to their grandkids.

The Village Board members voiced support for the project and the group’s dedication.

“I applaud you for your efforts and hope you make this happen sooner rather than later,” Seager said.


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