New Ellington Senior Center opens its doors

By Steve Smith - Staff Writer
Ellington - posted Tue., Jan. 7, 2014
The Ellington Senior Center's new home at 40 Maple St. (soft-) opened for business on Jan. 6. Photos by Steve Smith.
The Ellington Senior Center's new home at 40 Maple St. (soft-) opened for business on Jan. 6. Photos by Steve Smith.

“Everything,” said Ellington Senior Center Director Erin Graziani, when asked what she likes most about the brand new Ellington Senior Center, which had the first day of its soft opening on Jan. 6. “It's wonderful,” Graziani elaborated. “It's practical and functional, and nothing about it is over the top. It's so great, I can't believe it yet.”

The building at 40 Maple St. was open for business and hosting an open house for the public, and staff members were leading tours for residents, while many of the normal programs were set to happen, even though some of the building's features were not ready for use, including the cafeteria, kitchen and large function room, which are still receiving finishing touches. Many tables, chairs and other furniture is still stacked in the hallways, awaiting their new homes.

First Selectman Maurice Blanchette was among those taking the tour. Blanchette said the staff has seamlessly moved its programs from the former location, but there are still plenty of pieces to the puzzle that haven't been put into place yet.

“For a while, they're going to have to move some things around,” Blanchette said, “as they are finishing work on the building. They are still getting used to the building, too, like they still haven't received instructions on how to adjust the temperature in the building. There are still a lot of things that need to be done.”

Just some of the features include a weather-sheltering vestibule over the main entrance, a large game room with pool tables, ping-pong and shuffleboard, an arts and crafts room, a health room and an activity room. The center will also have an information kiosk in the main entrance where seniors can easily access news and program information. The building is also equipped to function as an emergency shelter, if needed.

Graziani said the building is precisely the right size for the needs of Ellington's seniors and the center's programming.

“The steering committee spent a lot of time focusing on the true needs of the seniors, as well as their future needs,” Graziani said, adding that many parties, including the center's staff, the architects and town officials and residents had contributed input, which the committee boiled down to exactly what was needed.

“That's why it's 10,600 square feet, and not more and not less,” she said. “The space is not wasted here.” While the increase in size is a an obvious addition over the 3,775-square-foot space the Senior Center had been leasing for years, the new space really adds a dimension to the programming, enabling the staff to offer more activities at the same time.

Arnold and Myrtle Benjamin said they usually come to the center for some arts programs and occasionally to hear a guest speaker, but that they were impressed with the new building, which might inspire them to do more.

“It's a beautiful job,” Arnold said. “Well done, well-organized, and well thought out.”

“I think it's fantastic,” Myrtle said. “I can remember when this was in the early talking stages, but this day has arrived. I didn't use the other one much, but now that I'm more involved in some things, I'll use this location more.

“It's a happy day for me,” Wayne Reynolds said. “This is what we spent more than three years on. It think it's fabulous. We visited nine senior centers. We drew what we wanted it to look like and took it to the architect.”

Reynolds, who was on the steering committee that worked on determining what the center would need to be, was thrilled and said the center opening was like a dream come true. Reynolds said that when the construction bids were coming in higher than expected, a few minor cuts had to be made from the design, but added that the committee insisted that the center's size not be changed.

“I don't care if we don't have any furniture, we'll raise the money [later],” he said, referring to the thought at the time. The committee contributed about $100,000 toward the project, specifically for furniture, fixtures and equipment.

A few features may be added later, Reynolds said, including a patio for outdoor dining and activities, a pavilion on the property that could be rented, and enhancing the bingo facilities, which could also be a money-maker. Eventually, the center will likely be able to rent out its great room space for other functions, which would generate revenue.

The center will have a full-fledged grand opening in April, and in the meantime, the staff will continue to re-institute programming and utilize the spaces as they become usable.

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