Seniors violate contract; asked to leave B-G facility

By Lynn R. Parks

The Nanticoke Senior Center may soon be without a home. The Boys and Girls Clubs of Delaware, which leases space to the senior center in its Seaford facility, has served notice to the senior center that it plans to end its lease agreement in six months. The contract between the two groups, which share the building on Virginia Avenue, was to go through February 2007. The July 13 letter from Boys and Girls Clubs president and CEO George Krupanski indicates that the situation could be solved if the lease agreement is renegotiated. "We don't feel that the current agreement is being adhered to," added Chris Basher, Boys and Girls Clubs of Delaware vice president for operations in Kent and Sussex counties. "For all intents and purposes, this contract doesn't even exist. If in order for us to continue, we have to come to a new agreement." But the senior center leadership has declared that such negotiations will not happen. In his letter, Krupanski accuses the senior center of breaking one provision of the lease, which stipulates that no part of the facility can be rented to another organization without the approval of both the Boys and Girls Club and senior center boards. For about a year, the senior center has allowed residents of the Seaford House, a residential treatment facility for teenagers, to use the facility's gym. In exchange, the Seaford House gave the senior center $1 per child per day. That money, which added up to about $3,000, was put into the senior center's fund to pay for meal delivery to homebound people. The stipulation regarding subleasing was not a part of the senior center's original lease agreement, which went from February 1998 through February 2003. It was included in this contract, said Basher, as a way to bring more money into the club. "Given the rising costs of operating the facility, there is a real concern about how we can afford to keep doing that," he said. "We were looking for a way to help offset costs. If [the senior center is] going to sublet the facility without approval, that is significant, especially at a time when they know that there is a challenge in covering costs." The annual budget of the Seaford facility is about $1 million. The lease agreement stipulates that the senior center pay $30,000 a year to the Boys and Girls Club, plus $1,000 for every year after 2003, the effective date of the contract.

Lease restriction never came up
Jim Bowden, president of the senior center board of directors, said that the board approved the agreement allowing teens from the Seaford House to use the gym. Ben Sirman, former president and current member of the board, said that the lease agreement provision that deals with renting out the facility never came up during the board's discussions over the agreement with Seaford House. "We did not think anything about a sublease," he said. "That kind of terminology was never there. We felt we were helping out a fellow agency; we didn't even talk about fees." Only after the Seaford House director offered to pay for use of the gym did the subject of money come up, Sirman added. "We accepted it as a donation, and put it all into our homebound food program." Basher said that when Peggy Geisler, executive director of Seaford's Boys and Girls Club, inquired about the arrangement with Seaford House, "we were told something quite different" than what it turned out to be. "She was told that the center was getting an in-kind donation, no money," he added.

Seniors admit wrongdoing
In a July 26 response to Krupanski's letter, the senior center board admitted that it violated the lease agreement in taking money from Seaford House without the OK of the Boys and Girls Club board. "We will acknowledge that we were remiss in our interpretation [of the agreement] and did not apply it to the situation with the Seaford House," the letter says. The board also promised to cooperate with the Boys and Girls Club and Seaford House in resolving the current problem; to study the lease agreement to prevent future violations; and to post the lease agreement so all members can read it. The board will not, however, renegotiate the lease agreement, which Krupanski suggested in his letter as a resolution to the disagreement. "We want to make things right," said Sirman. "But we don't feel what we have done is severe enough to force renegotiations. That would open up discussions of us paying a higher fee."

Other tensions are present
Bowden and Basher agree that the letter comes on the heels of growing tension between the two groups over what Bowden calls "personnel problems" and Basher calls "working relationship conflicts." Those conflicts are not spelled out in the Krupanski letter, and neither Bowden nor Basher would provide details about them. The Boys and Girl Club and the senior center have formed a liaison committee to work out the tensions. In addition, Basher has written the first draft of a code of conduct for senior center and Boys and Girls Club employees. That draft has not been presented to the senior center board yet. Bowden and Sirman said that the personnel disagreements between the club and the senior center are not serious enough that they violate any conditions of the lease agreement. But Basher said that in fact, the senior center has violated two lease agreement provisions in addition to the subleasing provision. "Specifically, those having to do with cooperating and working together," he said. Basher said that in light of those other violations, the Boys and Girls Club felt justified in threatening to terminate the lease. "This did not happen out of the blue," he said. But Bowden said that that liaison committee could have been used to resolve the Seaford House situation. Instead, the first indication that the senior center had violated the lease and that that lease would be ended came with the Krupanski letter. "You don't deal with people that way in Sussex County," Bowden said. "They knew how to get a hold of me, but at no time did anyone call and say, ÔWe need to work this thing out.'"

"We want to resolve this"
Basher said that he is optimistic that the current crisis can be resolved. The Boys and Girls Clubs of Delaware is in the process of responding to the senior center's July 26 letter. "We want to resolve this," he said. "This is not an eviction. There are good people in both organizations and there is no reason we can't work this out." But Bowden said that the senior center board is considering other accommodations, in case the lease agreement is in fact ended. "We have been in the community for 35 years," he said. "We have provided excellent service to seniors for 35 years and we will continue to provide them, here or elsewhere."

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