The 35,000-square-foot, $5.5 million building was designed to meet the needs of Durham's senior-citizen population, which is expected to nearly double by 2020. But only about 25 to 30 of the city's 25,000 senior citizens use the center on an average day.
"That building should be swirling with people. Now, it's like walking into an echo chamber," Durham City Councilman Eugene Brown said.
"I was coming on Fridays to see the movie, but nobody was here. I didn't want to watch the movie alone. I can stay home and watch TV by myself," 75-year-old resident Mary Jo Pullen said.
The center held an open house Monday to publicize its activities, but only two dozen people showed up.
"We admit we haven't seen as many as we'd like to see," center director Nancy Love said. "It could be running better if seniors would start participating."
Love said she is looking at expanding the center's hours to include nights and weekends to draw more seniors. She will meet with the county manager and some county commissioners Tuesday to devise a plan to turn the center around.
The county used 2001 bond money to finance the center's construction on North Rigsbee Avenue.
Commissioner Ellen Reckhow pointed to problems like a kitchen filled with paint cans instead of pots and pans and an activity program that consists of little more than board games and lectures.
Love said the original plans for the building didn't call for a full-scale kitchen. So, the kitchen still needs wiring and plumbing, and she said she hopes to have it running by November.
"We've got to follow up and figure out how to straighten things out," Reckhow said.
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