By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN
BG Independent News
Don’t tell these seniors they are stuck in their ways. They are dreaming big about the possibilities of a new senior center – conjuring up ideas like a pool, solar panels and retail space.
“If they have a concept we haven’t thought of, that’s what we need to hear,” said Denise Niese, executive director of the Wood County Committee on Aging. But Niese is quick to remind the seniors that the center has to stay within budget.
Last month, it was announced that Bowling Green was giving the committee on aging land for a new senior center, and that Wood County would secure financing for the project. The property was formerly used for the school district’s central administration building, between South Grove and Buttonwood streets, south of West Wooster Street.
Last week, a second public brainstorming session was held on the project.
“People are wanting to give input, which is a good thing,” Niese said. “There was some very good discussion.”
During this second session, more ideas were suggested about partnerships with the senior center. One recommendation was a possible teaming with community theater groups, such as the Black Swamp Players and the Horizon Youth Theatre.
Niese said the committee on aging would need to look at the additional costs that would entail.
“We’re open to exploring and partnering. This will still be a community space – like this one is,” Niese said of the existing senior center on North Main Street. “My board and I have to listen to these suggestions.”
The idea was floated again about the committee on aging considering Kenwood
Elementary School for a senior center, since the school district is planning to build a new centralized elementary school.
Niese said the city is giving the land to the committee on aging, and the committee will have an environmental study completed before accepting the deed.
“The city has offered,” she said. “We’re still in a planning process. We are still in the very beginning planning stages.”
However, the idea of having a building designed specifically for seniors is pretty attractive. For more than 35 years, the senior center has been housed in the historic post office on North Main Street.
A new building offers the hope of a reliable elevator, ample free parking with at least 87 spaces, and plenty of space so yoga classes don’t have to be held in the same room as seniors are getting help preparing their taxes.
The preliminary plans call for the new senior center to be two stories, with 25,000 square feet. That compares to the current center size of 14,500 square feet. An overlay of the a two-story plan for the new senior center placed on top of the old central administration building outline showed that the center would take up less than half the space of the school building. A land trade between the city and First Presbyterian Church, created an L-shape lot and gave the center plenty of space for parking.
The preliminary plan shows three entrances off South Grove Street to the center site, and one pedestrian walkway from Buttonwood.
The rough ideas for the building interior include a dining and multi-purpose area with space for 200 or more. Drawings showed activity rooms, meeting rooms, office space, a café area for coffee and conversation, a fitness room, and a storm shelter in the center of the building with reinforced walls.
Some concerns were expressed at the brainstorming session about increased traffic on South Grove Street. “I encouraged them to go to the city” and share those concerns, Niese said, since the city will be working on that issue.
There were other concerns voiced about increased costs of snow removal and lawn care – expenses that the city now covers since it owns the existing senior center building. Some in the audience asked about volunteers filling those roles, which Niese said would be considered.
“Volunteers are a core of our success,” she said, noting that as many as 350 people volunteer at the senior center each year.
The cost of the building is not yet known. Niese and the Wood County Committee on Aging board plan to launch a capital campaign, request grants for portions like the storm shelter, approach state legislators, and ask for citizen donations.
However, the capital campaign can’t be started until the costs are known. And ground can’t be broken until the board has secured at least two-thirds of the dollars needed, she said.
The Wood County Committee on Aging has never incurred debt before, Niese said.