As we all know the current Senior Center building is far too small to accommodate existing and potential new programming. It constantly needs repair, lacks adequate parking, and I hear people say they don’t want to go there because its appearance is off-putting. The staff, volunteers, and programming are terrific, but the building itself presents a barrier to serving the community. With Newton’s rapidly growing population of people age 60 and over, we need a new Senior Center. As discussions continue about its location, I have been pondering how it could be funded.

It appears that estimated construction costs for this building will not be clear until the size and site have been determined. However, the city’s website indicates the “…project will be paid for within the City budget and will not require an increase in taxes to fund it. Like a mortgage, it will be bonded over a 30-year period, and annual debt payments will come from the City’s operating budget.”

I admit up front that I do not know a lot about how to fund substantial projects such as this. Still, I wonder if there are options other than or in addition to the city’s operating budget. I don’t know the answers, but I do have some questions we could be thinking about.

Over my years of working on senior issues, I have learned that across the state, senior centers, at times, have been funded at least partially by Friends groups that solicit money for this specific purpose.

In Newton, we already have an established 501C3 called “The Senior Citizens Fund of Newton.” This fund has been raising money to serve the needs of seniors and the Senior Center since January 1985. Could this already-existing fund (or perhaps a new one) be expanded to include a search for dollars for an exciting new Senior Center? In the past, the SCFN has funded brick-and-mortar improvement projects such as a property-separating fence and a small garden on the current site.

Could naming rights be another option for raising money? I have not been involved in naming rights where individuals make donations directly to a project and then have their names on a particular space. But as the executor of several relatives’ estates, I worked with a number of big philanthropic and health care organizations to allocate designated inheritances. These estate monies helped support an outdoor garden in a hospital’s cancer center, and in another instance, established a fund in perpetuity for preventing isolation and loneliness among seniors in a community. Both of these projects now and forever bear the names of family members.

What about a public-private partnership? There is talk about the potential for adding some apartment units for older people to a new Senior Center. The exact type of housing would have to be determined, but there are organizations in our community that have tremendous expertise in building and managing housing in general, and particularly housing for seniors who want to age in the community. Can this partnership idea be explored? Are there other types of partnerships that would result in a win-win for an organization and our city?

These are some ideas and there are probably many others out there. What are they, how can they be explored, and what would or would not make sense for Newton? I like the ideas that bring different parts of the community together for a common purpose – older and younger residents, individual or corporate donors, and the business and not-for-profit sectors.

Newton has many important and critical projects to fund. The new Senior Center is one of them. How can the city find all of the money it needs to pay its current obligations and still grow itself as a visionary, forward-thinking community? What are some creative, out-of-the-box possibilities?

Marian Leah Knapp is a 50-year resident of Newton.