If sifting through information and ideas to get to the core of what the MAPS 3 senior centers are supposed to be is like peeling an onion, then Oklahoma City leaders charged with doing so still have many layers to peel back.
The MAPS 3 Citizen Advisory Board's senior health and wellness center subcommittee has taken steps to involve a subcontractor in the planning process as it labors to produce a second request for proposals from potential operating partners.
The subcommittee met Wednesday, albeit unofficially, due to lack of a quorum, and held a discussion with Doug and Ellen Gallow, of Ohio-based Lifespan Design Studio, a husband-and-wife team of consultants who say they take a multidisciplinary approach in helping to develop senior centers and other projects.
Lifespan is a subcontractor of the firm that will eventually do the architecture work for the first senior center. The city hopes to use the Gallows' expertise in blending social sciences and architectural design to fit the needs of aging residents.
“The term senior center is a pretty ambiguous thing that truly cannot be defined, and in our opinion should not be defined, on anything other than a local level,” Ellen Gallow said. “That's the process that's happening here.”
First center difficult
Finding an operating partner for the first senior center has proved consistently difficult so far, especially because operators will bear all or most of the ongoing costs after the city pays to build it.
The first request for proposals didn't generate an acceptable response, and the subcommittee has been trying to come up with a more specific second request to try to get better bids.
City leaders told voters four senior centers would be built as part of MAPS 3, and they're intended to provide a variety of lifestyle and wellness services to seniors. But some of the most popular potential components of the centers, specifically pools for aquatic facilities, are the most expensive.
The subcommittee has struggled so far to strike the right balance with being specific enough in their proposals to give potential operating partners a clear mission and providing those partners with enough flexibility to fit their capabilities and plans.
Lifespan's role is to help the subcommittee strike the balance.
The Gallows have been involved in planning and designing senior centers on both U.S. coasts and states in between, and specialize in tailoring a property's physical characteristics for use by seniors as they continue to age.
“Our psychology changes, our physical ability changes, and our senses change,” Doug Gallow said. “That's really how we start to look at design. Every design decision we make ... we ask the question, ‘How does this design decision affect the users?'”
The Gallows highlighted issues related to property for the first center as an example of a section of the request for proposals where the subcommittee could do more to provide specific guidance, but remain flexible.
The city hasn't specified where the first center should be, and the Gallows said that's good policy. But the subcommittee should make the list of site evaluation criteria clear to any potential bidders.
For example, some centers could have programming that requires many more parking spaces than others. So the subcommittee should make it clear that a site plan has to accommodate enough parking for the programming, but refrain from requiring a specific amount that would prove arbitrary, the Gallows said.
The Gallows, city staff and subcommittee members will continue to refine the request for proposals in the coming weeks.
It could be approved as early as the subcommittee's next meeting in December, and the request will be forwarded to the full Citizen Advisory Board and city council for approval before it is posted for bids.