DALLAS — When former city manager Roger Jordan and the Dallas City Council began the project to build a new senior center in Dallas in 2001, they didn’t expect it would be nearly 20 years before construction started.

At that point, the seniors center was, and still is, in the back room of the Dallas Public Library, the location the group moved into in 1992. Jordan, who was city manager from 1982 to January 2008, said that by 2001, the group has outgrown its facility.

“The city council appointed a committee, and we looked in several locations and knew that it would be important for Dallas to have a new senior center. Most of us, however, didn’t realize we would be retired 10 years before we actually got it,” Jordan said Thursday at the groundbreaking for the new center on Church Street. “Thank goodness the city kept working on it with the seniors, and the community development corporation took up the ball, and more importantly, that the state funded the facility.”

To say it’s been an ordeal to get to this point might be an understatement. The project has spanned four city managers and two location changes. It has waited on grant applications to be approved, and then amended when a new location was found. Finally, the deadline for the grant to be used had to be extended and funding supplemented by the Dallas Urban Renewal District before the city and seniors could break out the golden shovels.

That ever-elusive day happened Thursday, when members of the Dallas Area Seniors, city councilors and staff, and residents gathered to celebrate the beginning of construction.

Jerry Wennstrom, a member of Dallas Area Seniors, thanked Jordan, who started the project, and current City Manager Greg Ellis, who helped complete it.

“Greg, when he came in, he kinda picked up the ball and said, ‘Let’s make it happen,’” Wennstrom said. “For those who have worked on the building committee over the years, it’s been a long haul, but we finally made it.”

Diana Cvitanovich, with Polk Community Development Corporation, thanked the audience for patiently waiting while her organization and the city worked to find the best site and sufficient funding. Polk CDC applied for the state Community Developement Block Grant that will pay for most of the facility.

She said Polk CDC was asked to help find a location in 2011 or 2012. A previous site, where the old Dallas pool once stood near Dallas City Park, was designated as the location in 2009, but later rejected because it is in a flood zone.

“We couldn’t find a location, and finally the city provided a parcel it owned behind the Carnegie Building,” Cvitanovich said. “So, we prepared an application, I think it was in 2013 or 2014. We got an award from the state of $1,950,286 in December of 2014.”

What could have been seen as the end wasn’t as Ellis thought the lot behind the old Carnegie Library wasn’t ideal. He proposed the old armory site a few blocks down at 817 SW Church St. The old armory had been removed, but the change would require surveying the site to make sure it had Oregon Department of Environmental Quality approval.

“Even though the demolition was done by 2012, it took three or four more years to get clearance,” Cvitanovich said.

At the time, the property was in the hands of the Dallas Urban Renewal District. The city had to purchase the property to put it in city ownership to use the grant money to build it. The exchange was approved in 2018, and the state agreed the grant could be used for the new site.

“But, then, everybody had to go back to the drawing board, the architect, ourselves,” Cvitanovich said.  “All the due diligence had to be redone. That takes time, so once again, thank you for whatever patience you may still have.”

One last hurdle popped up earlier this year that required more help from the urban renewal district: When the city opened construction bids, funding was short by $600,000.

In February, the Dallas Urban Renewal Agency Board approved giving the project $600,000 to get it across the finish line.

Cvitanovich said Thursday that there is some actual light at the end of the tunnel. The construction bid has been awarded to Wildish of Eugene.

“We have been meeting with them and we are getting ready to start,” she said. “Permits should be available in early May and we are ready to get started in May, when with hope and hard work — which we are all familiar with — the project should be done by the end of this year.”

That announcement didn’t quite satisfy Mayor Brian Dalton, who served on the committee appointed in 2001. He wanted to dig some dirt.

“I don’t believe anything in Dallas until I turn dirt with a gold shovel,” he said. “That’s the next operation. Let’s do it.”

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