With marching orders from the Oklahoma City Council, the MAPS 3 board turns its attention to the senior wellness centers 

The MAPS 3 Citizens Advisory Board wanted to send a message to the Oklahoma City Council: We hear you loud and clear.

At the council's Aug. 17 meeting, several councilors were upset that the advisory board had focused too much attention on the new convention center to be built from MAPS 3 funds, and hardly any attention was being paid to the senior wellness centers, also a part of MAPS 3. Sam Bowman, Ward 2 councilman, held up a thick notebook that contained information on all eight of the MAPS 3 projects, but the section on the wellness centers had nothing more than a tab.

The item was brought up at the Aug. 26 advisory board meeting, with the group firmly engaged in adhering to the council's wishes.

"We got the message, and we are acting on it," said advisory board chairman Tom McDaniel, as he forged a consensus from the board to start plans for the centers at the board's next meeting in September."Scott Cooper

While the centers were one of the more unexpected aspects to MAPS 3 when voters took to the polls back in December, it was also one of the vaguest. The city called for spending $50 million to "construct multiple state-of-the-art health and wellness aquatic centers for senior citizens." But specifics on how many centers were to be built, where to build them and what the centers would offer were a blank slate. Today, there is also no timeline on when the centers will be up and running.

The advisory board gave some indications to answer some of those questions.

"There might be other institutions within our community that might want to be a part of this effort," said board member Michael Dover. "Community health centers, educational institutions, a number of institutions that might have the expertise to help make these wellness centers when they do get started. There are so many issues regarding the wellness centers that it would be helpful to have that consultation to kind of look at some of the issues."

The wellness centers were put into MAPS 3 as a means to address the city's growing senior citizen population. During the MAPS 3 campaign, the only description given was that the center would include an aquatics component.

Board member Susan Hooper suggested conducting community meetings to find out what the centers should entail.

"It might not be just general public meetings," Hooper said. "We might target some places for some conversations."

One question that did pop up was whether the centers should be exclusive to senior citizens.

"If they are going to be great facilities, it ought to incorporate younger people that we have a huge problem with in this state as far as health and fitness," said board member Dee Morales. "I don't understand why it is just narrowed down to the senior citizen."

MAPS 3 program manager Eric Wenger said he and his staff can have something in place by the September meeting.

"We can take the comments from the advisory board to help further along the selection of the subcommittee for the wellness centers," Wenger said.

Each of the MAPS 3 projects will be guided by a subcommittee of the advisory board.

"There are some early steps we can take and start this process with the wellness centers, no different than some of the other projects," Wenger said. "Clearly, there are a lot of unknowns with the wellness centers. I can come back to you at our next meeting and make a recommendation on a plan; we can move this project forward."

McDaniel said he understood the only reason the board had not acted on anything concerning the wellness centers is that a subcommittee had not been appointed yet.

"I kind of think about the appointment of the subcommittees as the first step," McDaniel said, and questioned Larry McAtee, Ward 3 councilman, who is also a member of the advisory board, as to what should be the first step. McAtee said he thought the task was just to get some dialogue going on the wellness centers with the board.

"The City Council is really interested in advocating for making sure the wellness center approach does move forward," he told the board.

The council member said the need to get the board moving on this issue was important. He pointed to various people who are advocates for some of the other MAPS 3 projects, like Jeff Bezdek, the principal of public enhancement company Bezdek + Associates, for transportation and Mike Knopp, executive director of the OKC Boathouse Foundation, for improvements to the Oklahoma River.

"But there is no advocacy group for the wellness centers or a wellness center," McAtee said. "The council is interested in making sure the well centers (do) receive the attention of the advisory committee and that it proceeds also on a path that provides to our citizens " as expeditiously as possible under the recommendations of the advisory committee and staff provides " a means to get the wellness centers moving forward."

photo MAPS 3's senior centers are modeled after the Patrick Henry Hays Center in North Little Rock, Ark.

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