Bridger Senior Center awarded $57,500 to help with sinking building

Alastair Baker
News Editor
Thursday, January 9, 2020
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Photos by Alastair Baker
The Bridger Senior Center west side corner rests on rotting railroad ties that are clearly visible. This corner of the building has sunk approximately 4-6 inches over 10 years.

The subsidence has also affected the siding, the gutter and the roof alignment of the building.

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The Montana Coal Board has awarded the Bridger Golden Age Society (Bridger Senior Center) a grant for $57,500 to cover the cost of repairing the failing foundations on their building. The 100-year old ex-railroad depot, 118 S. C. Street, has sunk by approximately 4-6 inches on the west side corner. 

It is believed the subsidence, which began about 10 years ago, is the result of rotting railroad ties that the building is situated on plus some water run off from a nearby flower garden attached to the center. 

The coal fund money is contingent on the availability of funds, so it maybe another 15 to 17 months before the money is released and the project, estimated at $30,000 to $40,000, can be completed. 

Bill Bullock, Carbon County Commissioner and Area II Agency on Aging Representative, along with Steve Simonson, Economic Development Director for Beartooth RC&D, testified on behalf of the Bridger Golden Age Society for the funding even though Carbon County is at the end of a long line of recipients. The Coal Board also encompasses south central Montana and covers Big Horn, Fergus, Musselshell, some areas in Richland County, and these areas usually get served first because  “They (still) have functional items with the coal industry,” said Bullock. 

“Carbon County was historically one of the first places in the state to get coal and mining here. However we haven’t had coal here for a lot of years or the mining of coal,” said Bullock. “We are still inclusive of that map but only just.”

Both Bullock and Simonson explained to the Coal Board that the Bridger Senior Center “is a necessity and without this (funding) there isn’t a lot of ways to mitigate their problems with the facility.”

After presenting their case Sidney Fitzpatrick, Big Horn County Commissioner and long serving Coal Board member, told both Bullock and Simonson “to stick around.” “Initially they disqualified this application because they didn’t feel that it even fit, though we are in that footprint of where the Coal Board does grant these,” said Bullock. “They had granted a funding mechanism in Fergus County for some parkland improvements and Fitzpatrick felt this was along that same avenue and he lobbied successfully for it (Bridger) because these senior centers are very critical for the functioning of the community and for our senior population. They do a great job as a place to gather and have excellent and affordable meals.” 

The last Coal Board grant in Carbon County was for the Boys and Girls Club in Red Lodge. 

For Karen Wilcox, Bridger Senior Center secretary, and President Diane Lesser, the news couldn’t be a better Christmas present at a time when keeping the doors open to the center is difficult enough let alone looking for funding to help with the upkeep. 

When they first heard about the funding being approved they were busy setting up the Children’s Christmas Store.

“My phone rings and it is Steve (Simonson). ‘You’ve been approved, the full funding’ and I screamed and everyone in the place stopped dead,” said Wilcox. “And he explained to me that between Bill (Bullock), Sidney (Fitzpatrick) and him, they got it done.”

“When it was first suggested I was not confident because we aren’t a coal town any more. What are they going to do? What will they do? And will they think about it?” said Lesser.

With the funding now approved to save the building, more time can be spent concentrating on the Center’s budget that hangs by the balance most months. Despite getting money from the state and the federal governments, and relying on fundraisers like the Children’s Christmas Store, the Chili Feed and the Prime Rib Dinner, as well as selling twice weekly cooked meals at $4 a head, times are tight.

“You never know how much money you will be getting from the state or federal as it changes yearly,” said Wilcox. “We don’t make enough money on meals to pay our cooks along with everything else.” 

“We’re trying to exist off memberships and meals,” said Lesser.

One silver lining was the building was quick claimed to them in December 1994, along with a registration fee of $6. 

“That was all we paid. So the building property is ours clear and free, there is no rent and no property taxes,” said Wilcox. 

“We’ve not had to put out anything,” said Lesser.  

In emphasizing the importance of this Coal Board award, Lesser said, “This isn’t a building, it’s a family that comes in here, and we use it for socialization as well. A lot of us live by ourselves. We don’t have anyone else.” 

A Bridger Senior Building Fund has been set up at the Bank of Bridger. The donation is tax deductible.