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Seniors, Junior League Tussle Over House

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The sticking point: Who owns the house?

The Junior League of Richmond established the senior center in 1959 to provide programs and social opportunities for senior citizens. The center was originally located downtown on East Franklin Street. In 1967, the league purchased the Monument Avenue land and the somewhat ailing house for $38,000, city records show.

Now the Senior Center of Richmond is listed on city records as the owner of the building. The center has based its operations there for 40 years and has paid the real estate taxes and made repairs and improvements to the property.

Recently, the senior center put the house up for sale, the center's executive director Rachel Mertz says. The 8,119-square-foot house and its land are assessed at $853,400 — meaning it would likely fetch $1 million or more.

The center had planned to use the proceeds to move into a new, undisclosed location nearby with better parking and accessibility, Mertz says, as well as for additional services and programs that would attract more members.

"We've seen a decrease in membership here, and the only thing we can attribute it to is [a lack of] accessibility," Mertz says. "It's hard to recruit new members here." She says membership is booming at the center's Chesterfield County location, which opened three years ago at Robious and Huguenot roads.

But plans for the sale recently stalled, and the "for sale" sign is down. "It was on the market and now it's not," Mertz says. She declined to elaborate, but concurs that the center and the league are at odds over a covenant in the deed to the property.

The covenant states that ownership will revert back to the Junior League if the senior center ceases operations there, says a source close to the center who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Jane Helfrich, executive director of the Junior League of Richmond, wouldn't comment on the impasse. "The two boards are working together in the interest of the program and the seniors it serves," she says.

Melissa Gladwell Crocker, director of operations for the senior center, calls the impasse "critical." The center's board president, Ian Nimmo, says the board remains in "active discussions" with the league about the property, but also declines to elaborate.

Meanwhile, it's been rumored that the Junior League has been looking for new digs itself — and may be eyeing the proceeds from the sale of the house on Monument.

In the mid 1970s, Mertz says, the Junior League stepped back from its role with the center, which subsequently became its own nonprofit organization. But she stresses that the league has advocated for the center in the past. After all, she says: "It was visionary in recognizing the need." S

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