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Construction on long-awaited Worthington senior center begins today

WORTHINGTON -- A new senior center has been years in the making, but the next step will soon be taken.

Today, construction begins.

"We're finishing up some of the work on the previous contract this week," Worthington Director of Community Development Brad Chapulis said last Monday. "As of (today), the site is being turned over to Salonek Construction, who is the contractor that was awarded the project.

"There is excavation that has to be done. The first few weeks, you'll just see excavation work. The project has a pretty fast timeline. We're talking about the end of December or the first part of January as the substantially complete date."

The new center will be built downtown Worthington on 11th Street, the site of the former YMCA.

"Part of the beauty of the current site was we were trying to find multiple users and broaden the scope of it," city councilman Mike Woll said Monday afternoon. "The current site is going to include the 1980s additions to the YMCA, which includes the gym, two racquetball courts and a great room in the basement. We're putting a new addition on, which will make up a senior-center dedicated space."

The new building will add on about 2,800 square feet.

"It will become kind of a lifetime center," Woll said. "I think it does broaden the use to other folks. It revitalizes Senior Dining. It helps give a central location to things that are always going on. It gives some permanence to the senior center, which has lacked."

The total cost of the new addition will be $813,645.

However, by splitting up the bids for demolition of the previous building and the construction of the new one, the city was able to save $206,000.

"Maintaining the budget parameters was something the council remained very conscious of," City Administrator Craig Clark said. "Council member Woll has provided extensive leadership on this project, both in working with the seniors and the council.

"This is kind of a multi-generational center in the way we see it from the council perspective. It's a senior center in part, but also part of the repurpose was having the gym there so it would be multi-generational in that respect."

During the past few years, the senior citizens of the community have been bounced around from location to location.

"That was a large part of the challenge the last couple of years was both right-sizing it and finding out who are the potential users," Woll said. "Our thought was if we are going to fund this, it's not going to be under a minimal card room and pool table room. We wanted it to be more of a dynamic organization and facility to serve more people rather than few."

The new building will utilize part of the existing structure. The gymnasium, racquetball courts and basement were all left intact. The addition will include a multi-purpose room, new restrooms and a kitchen area. With the kitchen, the hope is to have Senior Dining in the new center.

Outside, there will be 23 new parking stalls as well as a patio area.

Now, the key is utilizing all that space.

"To make it a viable build, it's all about programming," said senior center coordinator Julia Seykora. "Essentially, the current city center would suffice for the activities that happen there, which is the cards and pool. But we want to do a lot more. It's such a large population of people. We're saying 50-plus, and that's such a large group of people to accommodate. You can't just have three programs and hope they fall into those three categories."

Seykora is already excited about new programs. Pickle Ball is a one just getting under way. It's something that can continue inside once the weather turns cold. She is also looking at cooking classes, art classes or computer classes where students could learn how to use programs such as Skype.

"The possibilities are endless, and I think that's what people really need to be aware of," Seykora said. "We're not limiting ourselves to anything. The space we're in right now is very limiting."

To Seykora, the project is a commitment from the city to take care of its older population. It was also something the city hoped to address following a survey as part of the new strategic plan.

"With the Baby Boomers becoming senior citizens, this is a huge thing for them," she said. "I'm glad the city stepped up to the plate and said this is what we are going to offer our senior citizens. They need it, they deserve it and we're going to do it. It's a huge step in the right direction, and it's a show of good faith that we appreciate the people who have lived and worked in this community for so long."

For the next six months, there will be a transition plan put together to move the seniors and programs to the new center.

"That takes you from point A to point B," Chapulis said. "It's from point B to the overall vision that's been set forth by the council, that's where it takes the dedication of staff, including Julia, to bring that to fruition."

After years of talking and planning, the new center is finally moving forward.

"A lot of people wondered if we would get there, and we have and we will," Clark said. "Come December, we'll have a place for the seniors as a permanent home rather than bouncing around to the different sites like they have."

Daily Globe Community Content Coordinator Aaron Hagen may be reached at 376-7323.