Cooking now: Kenai senior center to get bigger kitchen

Posted: Monday, August 08, 2005

A longtime resident of the Kenai Senior Citizens Center told the city council Wednesday that enlarging the center's kitchen might lead to better pies being baked for the city's July 4 celebration.

Moments later, on a vote of 6 to 1, the Kenai council approved a $416,285 remodel of the kitchen.

"I don't know how many pies I've baked for the 4th of July," said Joanna Hollier. "A little bit of extra room (in the kitchen) will help us all.

"Maybe you'll have better pies," said Hollier, who has resided in Kenai since 1947 and been baking pies for the city's annual celebration since the late 1980s.

Hollier was one of about a dozen seniors attending the council meeting to show support for the kitchen remodel.

Interim City Manager Chuck Kopp told council members the senior meals program prepared in the center's kitchen has nearly doubled since it began 20 years ago. He said the kitchen is no longer large enough.

In addition to being used for preparing seniors' meals, the kitchen and adjacent dining room are rented out for special events and used by caterers prepping and serving meals on those occasions.

Kopp said the city administration first reviewed the need for the kitchen remodel in early 2004 at an estimated cost of $281,000.

With that figure in mind, the city went about seeking grants to help fund the project and did, in fact, receive an award of $140,892 from the Rasmuson Foundation. The grant expires in November, according to Kopp.

The city also has been awarded other grants totaling $75,000 toward the project.

With construction material costs rapidly rising since grant seeking for the project began 18 months ago, the total estimated cost climbed to $416,285, Kopp said.

Council member Rick Ross — the sole dissenting vote —expressed concern that the need for additional money was not brought up during the council's budget session.

"Now we're being asked to approve an additional $200,000, and I did not even see (construction) plans until two weeks ago," Ross said.

Kopp said in a December 2004 work session, council members received a two-page narrative outlining the kitchen remodel.

"The plans were not included, but the narrative was there," Kopp said.

Council member Blaine Gilman said, "Maybe the procedure was not correct, but the need is there."

After being told by Finance Manager Lawrence Semmens that by applying $100,393 from the Senior Citizen Special Revenue Fund, the shortfall would be $100,000, Gilman said, "We're talkin' $100,000.

"I've seen this council waste a lot more money than that."

After the council approved increasing appropriations for the project, the seniors in attendance applauded their decision.

Baker Hollier said she guessed she has baked about 90 pies for the July 4 celebrations since 1987.

One most frequently re-quested is her special rhubarb pie — sometimes enhanced with strawberries.

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