Chesco set to aid troubled senior center

Posted: January 09, 2014

WEST CHESTER After 14 months of intermittent closures due to a kitchen fire and mold problems, Chester County's largest senior center is about to get a financial hand from the county.

The county commissioners said Tuesday that they wanted to pay for the hiring of legal counsel to help the Downingtown Area Senior Center deal with what it says are unresponsive property owners with whom it shares a mold-affected wall.

The center, which serves about 1,800 people annually, has the largest service area of the county's six senior centers. It closed in November after an increase in mold spores was detected.

County Commissioner Ryan Costello said the center would not be able to afford counsel without county aid, which would come from general operating funds. Like many of the state's senior centers, the Downingtown site is still recovering from the recession.

Costello said the county was not placing a limit on the aid, but added that the county would reimburse the center for legal fees and would review the costs regularly.

The senior center has continued some of its services remotely and is searching for a new space. The services include tax-filing help, and health and social programs.

The state and county finance the nearly 30-year-old center, which is contracted to receive about $110,000 from the county this fiscal year. Last fiscal year, the county gave it $134,000, in addition to $30,000 to help address its mold issue, according to the county's Department of Aging Services.

"We are pleased to learn that the commissioners will continue to demonstrate their commitment to Chester County's older citizens by supporting the Downingtown Area Senior Center during our unprecedented time of need," said Bill Pierce, the center's executive director and president of the Pennsylvania Association of Senior Centers.

A few months after a kitchen fire closed the Downingtown center for a week in 2012, the center discovered mold in February 2013 and had to close again.

It served seniors off site from early that year until September. Then, in November, it found more mold. It has been closed since then.

The senior center has been planning several fund-raisers, including a comedy night and its annual Spring Fling gala and auction.

Commissioner Kathi Cozzone said that ensuring all of the county's senior centers thrived was the responsibility of the county and communities.

"It is vitally important that the county assists the Downingtown senior center in any way that it possibly can," Cozzone said. "Our senior centers play a vital role for the seniors in our community."

The three commissioners are expected to officially approve the aid at Thursday's meeting.

610-313-8105 @MichaelleBond

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