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Commission delays vote on support for senior services facility

Tuesday, October 18, 2022 by Chad Swiatecki

The Community Development Commission will take another month before deciding to support a proposal to convert the long-vacant Nash Hernandez Building into an intergenerational facility providing care and services to seniors living in East Austin.

The commission voted unanimously to revisit the agenda item next month, following occasionally intense debate among commission members about the role of longtime community members in deciding the future of the building, which is located on the grounds of Holly Shores/Edward Rendon Sr. Metropolitan Park at Festival Beach. Last week’s meeting featured a presentation from representatives of the Austin Geriatric Center, also known as the Rebekah Baines Johnson Center, which has undergone redevelopment to expand its housing options.

The proposal for the 9,600-square-foot facility, which has been idle since 2011, would bring an adult day center, therapy facilities, community garden, and gallery space to the building along with play areas and child development facilities for kids.

The Nash Hernandez building is currently under the administration of the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, which has previously explored using it as a shared space with the Austin Police Department. Converting it into an intergenerational resource and activity center (IRAC) would cost $2.2 million to renovate, plus $3.7 million in startup and operational costs that stakeholders expect would be contributed from local foundations and other nonprofits.

Jacqueline Angel, a member of the advisory board that is working to build support for the project, told the commission that outside agencies will be crucial to the success of the facility and offering support services for area seniors.

“We feel that it’s important that our partners from outside government also help … they understand how important it is for (seniors) to be able to get not just to the IRAC but that they may need to get dropped off at the pharmacy or to pick up groceries,” she said. “We have all different levels of health care needs and functions that will serve those who need it most, for our low-income and the neediest in our community who are really wanting these services.”

Commissioner Bertha Delgado, who represents East Austin neighborhood associations on the commission, said she wants more consideration and recognition given to previous plans and proposals for the Nash Hernandez building, including community efforts and visioning that in some cases predate the focus on senior services.

“We wanted to integrate elders and youth to do a learning center, and have computers there because we have a gap when it comes to technology. We wanted the food forest to work with meal preparation to teach about food sustainability,” she said. “The way this proposal wants to make this a citywide thing and bring all these people into our park and our neighborhood, we are already encroached and we are not going to support this and have more people come into the area and utilize the space that the community worked hard for.”

The decision to delay the support for the project was intended to let commissioners closely review City Council action over the years related to the need for senior facilities, while also giving the community more opportunities to discuss the issue.

“With things like this I hate to see when there are a bunch of partners ready to pony up the dollars and do the work and there’s a building just not being used,” chair Amit Motwani said. “This is not a commitment of funding or a commitment of resources. I think this represents so much of what this commission can be sharing our opinion on, particularly with respect to the needs of one of the fastest-growing demographics, if not the fastest-growing demographic, in our city.”

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