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Oak Lawn seniors leery of new center

Users have mixed early reviews regarding the new senior center in Oak Lawn.

Some do not like the location in a former school in a residential neighborhood. Others are glad it no longer is on busy 95th Street.

Some think there’s not enough room for the programs. Others are willing to give it a chance and work through growing pains.

The new location will be a home for seniors for at least two years, village manager Larry Deetjen said. The village signed a two-year lease, at $15,000 annually, with Oak Lawn-Hometown School District 123 to use part of the former McGugan Junior High School, 5220 W. 105th St., for the senior center.

The old center is slated for demolition to make room for a bank building.

Carole Gutsch, who attended the recent ribbon-cutting ceremony in the gymnasium at the school, said she misses the old place.

“We had a nice place there. What are we going to do for parking,” she asked.

Moments later, Deetjen addressed that very issue in remarks to about 150 seniors who attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Parking improvements will increase the number of spaces near the entrance, located on the north side of the building, Deetjen said.

“Change,” he said, “is never easy. Any complaints you have, direct them to me. I’m more than willing to listen to you.”

Oak Lawn Mayor Sandra Bury said the senior center will be a work in progress.

“This is just the beginning. We’re going to work ongoing. I know many of you have concerns. After you yell at Larry, come and talk to me about it. This is a wonderful space. There will be many, many happy times here,” Bury said.

School District 123 recently added two air conditioning units to rooms that will be used by the seniors, Larry Fetchko, community liaison officer for the school district said.

Bury said she is glad the senior center is no longer on 95th Street, just west of the public library.

“It always made me nervous with the traffic around there. This will be better. This is more of a neighborhood spot. The goal is to energize the senior program,” Bury said. “It’s going to be different and with it there are new possibilities.”

A church school and a healthcare training center also rent space in the old school. They all share the gymnasium which seniors will use for exercise classes, movies, bingo and a monthly luncheon, Deetjen said.

“I think this is a nice, safe location,” Deetjen said.

Fetchko said the district wanted to rent out parts of the building not being used. There’s one room for administrative duties, another room or various uses such as card playing, and a kitchen, he said.

“We’re trying to develop a partnership,” Fetchko said.

Some seniors touring the building, however, think there is room for improvement.

“We’re very upset about it,” Marilyn Huttel said.

“They’re moving us to this room,” she said in a classroom. “We’re an exercise group. Our instructor, Chris Kerr, is usually up on a stage. It’s going to be difficult for us to see her.”

Kerr said she and the seniors were not consulted before the center was relocated. Glancing around the classroom, she said it could be close quarters for an exercise class that usually attracts 30 to 40 people.

“We’re going to be on top of each other, and we’re not going to see her,” Huttel said.

Bury, Deetjen and village Clerk Jane Quinlan requested patience. So did Jean Beyer, of the village’s senior commission, who thinks seniors eventually will grow to like their new surroundings.

Betty Sobczak, 79, said she is willing to give the new place a chance.

“It’s a lot different than what we’re used to. Parking is horrendous right now. More parking would help,” Sobczak said.



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