By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN
BG Independent News
The news was worth a brief delay in the country fried steak as the lunch hour approached Monday at the Wood County Senior Center.
“We’re smart enough to know to not get in the way of lunch,” State Senator Randy Gardner said to the seniors as he made the big announcement.
The new senior center in Bowling Green will be getting $1.6 million from the state, secured by Gardner and State Rep. Theresa Gavarone, both R-Bowling Green.
That amount is the largest state capital bill grant awarded in Bowling Green since at least 1992, Gardner said.
“Wood County does a lot of things well. This is one of the hallmarks of Wood County,” Gardner said about the county’s senior agency. “This is one of the best organizations in the entire county.”
“I am so thrilled to be in a position to work for you this way,” Gavarone told the seniors gathered for lunch. “It’s going t be a tremendous benefit to all of Wood County.”
Other community projects in Bowling Green are also in line for capital bill funding.
The Cocoon Shelter will receive $375,000 to help protect women and children from the dangers of domestic violence and sexual abuse. Two years ago, the Cocoon was given an $800,000 grant, adding up to $1.175 million in the last two capital budgets.
The BGSU Forensic Program will be getting a $200,000 grant to help enhance the BCII Crime Lab’s forensic academic programs.
The announcement of the senior center funding will help move along the proposed construction of the new facility in Bowling Green.
“We are very, very excited,” said Denise Niese, executive director of the Wood County Committee on Aging.
Last year, the City of Bowling Green gave 2.35 acres at 140 S. Grove St., to the Committee on Aging for a new building. The seniors had outgrown the existing building – which was considered state-of-the-art when the agency first moved in more than 35 years ago.
After the land had been given to the Committee on Aging, the board set a stipulation that ground can’t be broken until the board has secured at least two-thirds of the dollars needed.
At that point, Niese predicted it will be a three- to five-year process to complete a new senior center.
But Monday’s announcement of the state funding has moved up the timeline, Niese said.
“This moves us forward,” she said. “I would like to break ground a year from now.”
Ben Batey, president of the Wood County Committee on Aging Board, said the total projected cost for the new senior center will be $4 million.
“There’s still work to be done on a capital campaign,” he said.
The goal is for that campaign to bring in between $800,000 and $1 million during the next eight months. The committee will then go through the Wood County Commissioners to finance the remainder of the project.
“We all know our aging population continues to increase,” Batey said. “The elderly population is only going to continue to get larger, and we have to accommodate them.”
The current senior center, constructed in 1913, was formerly the city’s post office.
The structure did not keep up with the needs of its patrons. There are too many stairs, not enough parking, poor heating and cooling, and an unreliable elevator.
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. There will be plenty of space so yoga classes don’t have to be held in the same room as seniors who are getting help preparing their taxes. Also unlike the current site, the new location will have ample parking, with at least 87 spaces and none will be metered.
The cooperation between the senior center and Bowling Green State University was also noted on Monday.
“What a great, exciting announcement today,” new BGSU President Rodney Rogers said.
Niese praised Gardner and Gavarone for their efforts to secure the funding. “This is a huge testament for what Randy and Theresa do for the seniors of Wood County.”
The state funding may also help the City of Bowling Green solve its growing pains sooner than expected. For years, city officials have talked about cramped conditions at the city administration building which is located directly to the west of the senior center, which the city owns.
The senior center moving to South Grove Street would free up space for a new city building in the area currently shared by the senior center and the city building.
“I’m sure discussions will happen at an appropriate time,” Assistant Municipal Administrator Joe Fawcett said after Monday’s announcement at the senior center.
“The city’s made no secret that we are looking to use this site,” he said.