Lynn Bernier (left) and Joan Koczor represent a senior population worried about the fate of the Copa Center and the lack of a designated senior center in Maricopa. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

The city of Maricopa does not have a senior center.

The building many think of as a senior center may be demolished before the decade is out.

Maricopa does have an organization of senior citizens who like to socialize, plan events and help one another. When they do so, those gatherings are frequently in the Copa Center.

“It’s never been designated as a senior center, but a high number of seniors use it,” City Manager Gregory Rose said.

The Copa Center, a former church on Honeycutt Road, is at least partially in the probable path of the pending highway overpass.

“The seniors are extremely concerned that they have no place to go once it goes away,” said Joan Koczor, who serves on the Age-Friendly Maricopa Advisory Committee to the city council.

The future of the building is “unknown,” Rose said.

The grade separation project on State Route 347 at the Union Pacific Railroad tracks is in the design stage.

Early samples of designs showed the project needing all of the Copa Center property, Rose said. “They may end up needing a portion of it.”

When that might happen is also unknown.

The city bought the Copa Center in 2009 as a community center and leases it by the hour. It may be in the path of the overpass. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson
The city bought the Copa Center in 2009 as a community center and leases it by the hour. It may be in the path of the overpass. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

“We’ve been told three to five years,” said Lynn Bernier, vice president of Maricopa Seniors, Inc., a nonprofit that offers programs to those age 55-plus and hosts Bingo in the Villages clubhouse.

She said seniors have been searching for a place of their own for years. They initially tried for the former library, but it is now home to the Maricopa Veterans Center. They moved to the now-former Anytime Fitness space for a time.

They obtained use of the Copa Center in 2008.

The city bought the Copa Center as a community center in 2009 for $170,000. The Community Services Department schedules the use of the building. The hourly fee is $30 with the exception of nonprofit organizations, which pay $20, and senior citizen groups, which pay $10.

“We had to fight to get this place cleaned,” Bernier said. “It was so dirty, and there were feces on the floor.”

Seniors also cajoled the city to expand its adult drop-in schedule from four hours to eight hours.

Whether the Copa Center stays or falls is a separate issue from the quest for a senior center, Rose said.

He said the Age-Friendly Committee has been exploring options. That has included tours of senior centers in other communities and discussions of funding mechanisms. They are also looking for ways to obtain a privately funded senior center.

City Councilmember Peg Chapados is president of Maricopa Seniors, Inc. and is liaison along with Nancy Smith from the council to the Age-Friendly Committee. She said the search for options for a senior center has included discussion of purchasing or leasing a building or purchasing or leasing land.

It is not a city project.

“The only thing we’re doing is lending an ear,” Chapados said. “I’m glad it’s a private effort so far.”

But senior leaders know a building with a proper staff could well be out of reach.

“I don’t think we’ll have a senior center,” Bernier said.

Bernier said there is a misconception among some city leaders and officials about the senior population in Maricopa.

“We don’t all live in Province, and we don’t all want to live in Province,” she said.

Koczor said the new mindset for seniors is to stay in their homes and be independent as long as possible. They will have changing needs as they age, and that affects the community.

They do not believe they are asking for much – just an affordable space for socializing, educating, playing cards and board games and hosting events, preferably with a working kitchen.
[quote_right]“We don’t all live in Province, and we don’t all want to live in Province.”[/quote_right]
Knowing the days of the Copa Center are probably numbered, Koczor said the senior population of Maricopa is neglected.

She said many felt they were misled when they were approached to support the Copper Sky complex. They were told, she said, two multipurpose rooms and a kitchen would be dedicated to the use of senior citizens. With a change in city personnel, by the time Copper Sky opened that was no longer the case. Whether the city reneged is up to interpretation.

“Like any Realtor, you want to make a sale, and some things may have been said that were misinterpreted or misunderstood,” Chapados said. “Those opportunities exist, but there is a fee to do those things, just like for everybody else.

“You have to look at how much money we had and how many people were asking for things.”

“Seniors can’t afford those fees,” Koczor said. The idea they volunteer at Copper Sky to earn $10 toward the fee did not go over well, either.

The programs the seniors enjoy at the Copa Center are not reliant on the building.

“The programs aren’t going to go away,” Chapados said. “They are here to stay. There will be other opportunities.”

Chapados has been involved with Maricopa Seniors, Inc., since it was founded in 2009. The nonprofit is not about a senior center or membership but about senior programs. Its funding primarily comes from fund-raisers. It supplies 911 Guardian Alert Pendants, which can be programmed to work even away from home, and home key lock boxes that give the Maricopa Fire Department (and only MFD) access to the home.

Its Bingo nights give the seniors a fun and affordable way to get together, Chapados said.

The Copa Center is not the city's senior center, but senior groups use it frequently.
The Copa Center is not the city’s senior center, but senior groups use it frequently.

Lacking a building, senior leaders have turned attention to acquiring more programs and resources. Koczor said the most helpful has been the Pinal-Gila Council for Senior Citizens, based in Casa Grande. The PGCSC provides direction to answers on health, housing, legal issues, support groups and much more.

The creation of the Age-Friendly Committee and the fact Chapados is president of Maricopa Seniors, Inc., are both seen as positives in the seniors’ fight to be noticed in Maricopa.

“At least we have the ear of the council,” said Delphene Armstrong, who is also on the committee.

This story was published in the November issue of InMaricopa News.