Huntington Beach city officials moved forward Monday on financing for the construction of a long-debated senior center to be built at Huntington Central Park.

The city council voted unanimously to issue $16.4 million in general revenue bonds for the senior center, which is intended to replace its aging Michael E. Rodgers Senior Center, originally built in 1975.

The bond money provides $15 million for the $21.5 million construction project, with an additional $4.5 million coming out of the general fund. City staff expect another $2 million toward the project from private donations, but if that doesn’t materialize, the money would come out of the city’s capital improvement reserves.

The city would owe $23.1 million in total principal and interest costs over the 20-year life of the bonds, or about $1.2 million in annual debt payments out of the general fund, according to a staff estimate.

That’s on top of $42.1 million in other outstanding bond debt, as of September, the end of the city’s fiscal year.

According to Finance Director Lori Ann Farrell, while the new bonds do increase the city’s total debt, some of the city’s previous obligations will soon be paid off.

“While it does increase total debt, in the out years, it will just take the place of the other bonds issued,” Farrell said.

Resident Gerald Chapman, who served on the city’s Citizen Infrastructure Advisory Board, took issue with building annual debt payments for the senior center into the city’s infrastructure fund. The City Charter requires the city to devote 15 percent of the general fund for infrastructure improvements.

“It appears from the discussion that we just had that there will be plenty of money available to the city without putting it into the infrastructure fund,” said Chapman. “By putting it into the fund it takes that amount of money away from what is available to repair and maintain the city.”

The council’s actions Monday night have been long anticipated. Although the city selected the 350-acre Central Park as the site for the senior center back in 2006, the project has since been stalled by a lawsuit, filed in 2008 by a citizen group called the Parks Defense Fund.

The group argues the city violated is own general plan and state environmental laws, and that development money was improperly used to finance the project, according to The Orange County Register.

While staff said they don’t anticipate the project will be blocked again, if the city does lose the lawsuit, they would still be on the hook for the bond money.

But the council appeared confident Monday evening that the courts would resolve the issue by October, when the bonds are priced, and groundbreaking would occur before the year’s end.

“For a long time, our city has been without a new senior center, held up by a lawsuit [that] seems to finally have run its course,” said Councilman Joe Shaw. “What is frankly a substandard facility with first class services — it’s time for the facility to match the quality of services it provides.”

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