Step taken toward new senior center

By Steve Smith - Staff Writer
Ellington - posted Wed., Oct. 19, 2011
Designer Anwar Hussein of Lawrence Associates shows some conceptual plans for a new Ellington Senior Center building at the Board of Selectmen meeting on Oct. 17. Photos by Steve Smith.
Designer Anwar Hussein of Lawrence Associates shows some conceptual plans for a new Ellington Senior Center building at the Board of Selectmen meeting on Oct. 17. Photos by Steve Smith.

The Ellington Board of Selectmen unanimously approved the conceptual design plans for a 10,600 square-foot senior center building, which would potentially replace the 3,775 square-foot leased space. Senior Center Steering Committee Chairman Wayne Reynolds headed the presentation, which outlined the need for a new building.

Reynolds said senior centers were visited in several other towns, including Enfield, Tolland, Suffield, and Glastonbury, and hundreds of seniors in those towns were asked about what their center was like, how it met their needs, and what sorts of programs were supported by their senior center. The committee determined that a large multi-purpose room, exercise facilities, and a computer lab were among priorities for a successful senior center, as were access to social services staff and social and mental stimulation.

Reynolds cited recent and projected population growth in town, specifically of the senior population. He said that 2,479 seniors currently reside in Ellington. Projections show an increase to a 31.8 percent senior population in 2020, and 36.4 percent in 2030.
“Ellington is not only a town that is growing significantly in population, but it is also growing by a fast percentage of people 55-plus,” he said.  

The current senior center has three small rooms, with a capacity of just 64 people, a small kitchen incapable of providing meals for large groups, and just one computer. The cramped space also makes it difficult for multiple activities to take place simultaneously. “What we basically have is a facility that can handle 64 people at one time, when we have 2,479 people aged 60 and over,” Reynolds said.

The new center’s design comes with ample parking, a large, partitioned multi-purpose room, full kitchen and areas for card games, shuffleboard and billiards, said Anwar Hussein from Lawrence Associates — the building’s chief designer. “Our intent has been to make these spaces flexible,” Hussein said, “so that as the program changes, we can adapt these spaces for the changing needs.”

The total cost estimate for the new center is $2.35 million, but the committee presented options that would reduce the cost to town taxpayers. The town leases the current center’s space for $3,200 per month, which Reynolds said comes into play when considering the funding of the new building.

“The first half million dollars can come from what we are paying for the existing senior center,” Reynolds said, adding that repaying a bond of $500,000 over 20 years would amount to just under that $3,200 monthly mark. Reynolds said the committee anticipates getting at least $400,000 in grants from the state, federal government, and private foundations. He said that Suffield acquired more than $1.3 million in grants for their recently-built senior center.

The committee also held a golf tournament on Oct. 8, in which it netted a sum of $50,000 for the project. “We said we’d go out and raise some money to show that there is public and private support for a new senior center,” Reynolds said, adding that more cost-offsetting fundraisers are planned for the future.

According to Reynolds, the town would only be asked to foot about $1 million of the project, and the committee’s hope – also proposed by Melinda Ferry, chair of the town’s Human Services Commission – was to add that amount to the proposed renovations of the Crystal Lake School building project, essentially unifying the town’s commitment to capital upgrades that would benefit multiple generations.

Selectman Leo Miller said that, while that proposal is “politically brilliant,” the two are separate projects and therefore separate issues. “I don’t like it,” he said, “from the standpoint of open government.”

First Selectman Maurice Blanchette said he was all for the plans, but that he had also hoped the Steering Committee would present options for applying for grants — specifically, grants from private foundations. “I think the push to solicit grants has not taken place,” he said. “The town is used to getting grants from the state, not from private foundations. We don’t have people on board that are used to doing the foundations.”

Members of the committee said they are largely unable to proceed with applying for grants until the town approves the project, and that there seems to be something of a catch-22, since grant-giving entities will only commit to projects that have funding approved, but the town won’t approve funding until it is known what the budget impact will be. Committee members added that they do have contacts with foundations, and they will further study what specifically they need to proceed with the application process.

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