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Seniors criticize poor upkeep of Waxter Center; mayor vows to take action

Two years ago, the city announced $700,000 in building renovations that were never made

waxter again

Front entrance of the Waxter Senior Center on Cathedral Street in the Mt. Vernon neighborhood.

Photo by: Mark Reutter

Saying they are tired of broken promises, 20 senior citizens rose up from their seats at the Board of Estimates meeting yesterday, demanding improvements to the Waxter Center, the city’s premier senior activity facility.

The seniors stood silently as Lester Buster, president of the center’s advisory council, told Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and other city officials that the facility has been grossly neglected and in poor repair.

Buster complained of bathrooms without stall walls – “that’s both for men and women” – and said the city has been promising to make repairs for years. His remarks led to a round of affirmative head-nodding by seniors in the audience.

Senior stand in silent protest regarding conditions at the Waxter Center yesterday. (Photo by Mark Reutter)

Seniors stand in silent protest to conditions at the Waxter Center. (Photo by Mark Reutter)

His comments caught the mayor off-guard – the item before the board was approval of a $30,000-a-year lease of Waxter’s third floor to the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Community Center of Baltimore (GLCCB).

Rawlings-Blake questioned Steve Sharkey, director of General Service, about why seniors were not included in discussions of the lease. “They [General Services] should have done outreach ahead of time,” the mayor said, adding, “You know how much I care about the Waxter Center.”

City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young said he has been getting complaints about the center’s shabby condition for at least two years. “I was told some of the things [renovations] were done and they weren’t done,” he told Sharkey.

In 2012, a spokesman for Health Commissioner Oxiris Barbot announced that $700,000 in state and city funds would be used to renovate six public bathrooms, install new carpets, improve the swimming pool and upgrade the lighting system.

Sharkey told the board that those and other improvements will come with a $1.4 million planned upgrade of the center’s elevator, swimming pool, gym and bathrooms in the future. He did not give a date when the renovations would begin, but agreed to report back to the board in six months on the progress made.

Delayed Maintenance

Asked at her weekly media availability why improvements weren’t made to the center earlier, Rawlings-Blake said, “Let’s just put everything into context. You know we’ve been trying to work our way out of the Great Recession. The budgets I have had as mayor had significant deficits, and we worked very hard to stay on top of the maintenance of our buildings while at the same time knowing that we have been asked to contract the budget year after year after year.”

“Unfortunately,” she continued, “that building [the Waxter Center] and several others have had delayed maintenance because of the budget shortfalls. We realize we have to do better and as we grow out of the Great Recession, we are looking for ways to maximize the use of the building get get additional resources to invest in the upkeep in this building.”

Asked why the bathrooms weren’t fixed as part of routine maintenance, she said, “There was plenty of maintenance that was done, that was not.”

Gay Lesbian Community Center

Leasing Waxter’s third-floor is part of her administration’s strategy to improve the facility, she said. The GLCCB plans to use the space to provide services and outreach programs and use the facility on some weekends and evenings.

In his comments to the board, Buster said the GLCCB’s plan to include teenagers in his programming could cause problems.

“Usually teenagers and older people don’t get along too well,” he said, adding that the 60,000-square-foot facility has been strictly reserved for seniors (as well as offices for city senior services) since it was opened more than 30 years ago.

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  • Matthew Riesner

    I know this is a little off topic. Don’t you just love how the mayor always puts her name on things…I think its kind of trashy that in big letters (not a side note) to have the mayor take credit for everything. I don’t see Kevin Kavinitz putting his name on senior centers in the county in large font. These are taxpayer funded institutions, not a personal favors from the mayor herself…and its not just her O’Malley, Schmoke, and Scheafer did the same thing.

  • davethesuave

    “His comments caught the mayor off-guard”.

    This is becoming a classic punchline. But who’s laughing?

  • James Hunt

    The Brew wrote: “Rawlings-Blake questioned Steve Sharkey, director of General Service, about why seniors were not included in discussions of the lease. “They [General Services] should have done outreach ahead of time,” the mayor said, adding, “You know how much I care about the Waxter Center.”

    ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

    Great Schaefer’s ghost! Madame mayor sounds like King Louis in Mel Brooks’ “History of the World-Part 1″: “They are my people! I am their sovereign! I LOVE Them. Pull! (shoots peasant flung into air) Drifting to the left…”

  • Lizzie 58

    The seniors at the Waxter Center should move the sign “Mayor SRB welcomes you” into the bathrooms without stall walls. And they should add a second sign that says: “brought to you by your friends, Steve Sharkey and the Department of General Services”. The Administration can pay Century Engineering $160,000 to scout locations for 50 speed cameras, but we cannot renovate and install new bathroom partitions in six bathrooms at the Waxter Center?

    My Lord! Can private contractors and Midtown non-profits, including GLCCB, not help out here and do this work, at cost, without markup and perhaps donated labor, over the next 60 days? If we can raise funds and bypass DGS, we can fix this problem. I will make a donation. Our City cannot be this bad, this incompetent, over and over again.

    • ushanellore

      Lizzie58, you are great. That even rhymes. My shortest and truest poem.

  • Eric_in_Baltimore

    Conceptually, the Waxter Center is a disaster. It’s a relic of the fortress era of urban design and presents a giant hole in the fabric of Mt. Vernon. There were plans to sell the land for redevelopment. Since there is very little evidence of a substantial population of users, hopefully that can still happen. The comment about teenagers and seniors not getting along was amazing though. That’s some serious analysis right there. Jeez.

    • Matthew Riesner

      In an area with that many younger folks (early 20 somethings), with some educated and some not, maybe a small but complete community college would be a better fit for Mt. Vernon than a senior center.

      • Eric_in_Baltimore

        With BCCC, UMB, and UB so close by (not to mention MICA, Coppin St., Morgan U, Loyola, Towson, Goucher, etc) I don’t think it’s realistic to consider creating yet another college level institution. More likely, it should be housing and commercial. Mt. Vernon has more than its share of tax exempt organizations as it is. Ideally filling the block to continue the street edge intelligently. Reverse the one-way lane to connect Eager to Park. While we’re at it. Knock down the garage and surface parking across W. Eager and put a proper building on the site.

  • Exoduster

    “You know how much I care about the Waxter Center.”

    Riiiiight. We can all see how much you care about the Waxter Center. Its demonstrated by the amount of money and time you spend there. But using that same measure, we can see where your care and attention actually resides, Madam Mayor. It’s in the Grand Prix. It’s in developing Harbor East. It’s in Police and Fire overtime.

  • KnowNothingParty

    I am shocked that Mayor Failings Blake announced a $700,000 dollar renovation to this center then never followed through on her promise. Shame on you Mayor Failings Blake.

  • http://Noncisgender.com/ Jenna Fischetti

    “In his comments to the board, Buster said the GLCCB’s plan to include teenagers in his programming could cause problems.

    “Usually teenagers and older people don’t get along too well,”

    ##############################

    Does the fact that it’s Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual or Transgender teenagers that has anything to do with Buster’s bias?

  • Karen Carter

    The most vulnerable in our society are the ones must neglected. How can money be allocated and not used? I was encouraging my mother to go for activities and socialization. Embassment.

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