News

Howard Thomas takes reins at Senior Center

Howard Thomas will be a busy man.

The former public affairs officer at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station was recently hired by the city of Oak Harbor to be the permanent, full-time director of Oak Harbor Senior Center.

Shortly after getting the $50,000-a-year position, Thomas got the go-ahead from the City Council to research the possible expansion of the Senior Center. The building has become so crowded in recent years that activities such as a bridge club, a genealogy club, a foot clinic and a tax service had to be moved out. An adult respite care facility is located in a temporary modular building next to the center.

“One thing a lot of people have been asking about lately is a computer room,” Thomas said during a City Council workshop last week. “We have a volunteer to do the training, we just don’t have the space.”

Thomas suggested to council members that he could update a needs assessment of the Senior Center, which was done by a city consultant nine years ago. The old study, which was eventually shelved, proposed nearly tripling the 6,800-square-foot building to 18,000 square feet at a cost of $4 million.

Thomas, however, has suggested a more modest $1.2 million expansion, which would about double the size of the facility. He’s even done a rough sketch of the possible blueprints of the expanded structure. It includes two large multi-purpose rooms, a bingo/ classroom, a billiard room and an adult respite care facilities within the building.

“This is just Howard’s grab-it-out-of-the-sky dream,” he said, explaining that final design could be much different.

Last Tuesday, the council members directed Thomas to take the first step forward in the possible expansion by dusting off the original feasibility study and update it using new Census data, center membership and other information.

Thomas said he hopes to have the study updated in the next two months so he can ask the council for permission to apply for grants and possibly begin fund raising.

The center, which was built in 1986, was partially funded with a $750,00 Community Development Block Grant. Thomas said he hopes to apply for that grant again, as well as five other possible sources he’s found.

At the same time, Thomas said he will continue running the busy center and looking at any necessary changes — like new tables, fixing the kitchen floor and other building repairs. He’s been involved in the center for 14 years and was the interim director since December 2002. Since coming in, he’s made some small but significant changes, like getting rid of the boutique and putting in an extremely popular travel desk.

According to Thomas, running the senior center is the perfect job for him. After leaving the Navy, he worked in real estate and then was the interim director of Citizens Against Domestic and Sexual Abuse.

Thomas was chosen from 15 applicants after the job was advertised last December.

Thomas said he’s always been very comfortable around older people. Incredibly, he grew up in a large house in Iowa with his great-grandfather, a great-uncle, a great-aunt, his grandfather and grandmother, two uncles, an aunt, his parents and two sisters.

For Thomas, the senior center is another giant family. “They are very important to me,” he said, “and since I am their leader, I’ll follow them anywhere.”

You can reach News-Times reporter Jessie Stensland at jstensland@whidbeynewstimes.com or call 675-6611.

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