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New senior center considered

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About 60 villagers came out Thursday, Aug. 11, to consider the best way to respond to the needs of the growing population of local senior citizens.

“The numbers in Yellow Springs are extraordinary,” said consultant Ellen Gallow, referring to the senior citizen demographic in Yellow Springs. Gallow, a gerontologist, and her husband Doug, an architect, who comprise Lifespan Design Studio, were hired by the Yellow Springs Senior Center to assess the needs of village seniors and create a vision for a space to meet those needs. The couple presented the results of that effort at Thursday’s presentation at the Senior Center.

2009 Census figures showed that 18 percent of villagers were seniors, a figure above the national average, Ellen Gallow said. However, that Census also showed that 48 percent of the village are 45 and older, meaning that within a decade about half of local residents will be 55 or older.

The Gallows, who specialize in designing senior centers, interviewed about 40 local seniors before designing their proposed space. Based on those interviews, they suggested a center about three times larger than the current one.

Specifically, the envisioned center would have about 10,000 square feet, compared to the current 3,500 square feet downtown space. That space would include a variety of functions, according to Doug Gallow, including:

• a great room able to seat 150;

• an exercise and dance studio with “good floor material for older hips and knees;

• a fitness room;

• a dedicated arts studio;

• an administrative suite;

• a room for staff and volunteer breaks;

• additional office space;

• a separate room for health screenings;

• classroom space, including one large classroom and two smaller rooms;

• a main entrance that provides space for welcoming and informal socializing, including a computer nook, a reference library and a small cafe area;

• a kitchen; and

• storage space

The facility would also require about 60 parking spaces, according to the Gallows, bringing the total area needed to about 2.5 acres. The estimated cost would be $2.5 million.

Comments in response focused on ideas for new center locations, although at least one participant felt the scope of the Gallows’ vision was unrealistic and unnecessary

“We’re talking about a Cadillac senior center for a town of 10,000 to 20,000,” Bob Baldwin said of the proposal, stating that the cost would be prohibitive. “We’re entering into a new era. It’s going to be a different economy.”

Baldwin urged the center leaders to stay in its current downtown location.

“You’ve got something here that works. Don’t even think of another location,” he said.

But the current location doesn’t work, according to Senior Center board president Anna Hogarty, who chaired the meeting. “We’re bursting out of our seams.”

While most seniors interviewed had viewed the current center’s downtown location as its greatest asset, they also understood the need for more space, according to Ellen Gallow.

“The challenge is, what’s the right balance of keeping it close to town with needing more space?” she said.

Regarding the size of the potential new center, Gallow urged participants to remain mindful of the growing senior demographic in Yellow Springs.

“It’s important to be looking down the road and consider what needs there will be,” she said. “A facility that may sound extraordinarily large compared to today’s, doesn’t seem that big.”

Suggestions for potential new locations included expanding the center into the Beatty Hughes Park behind the current center; the front lawn of the Bryan Community Center; and on the grounds of Mills Lawn School.

The center staff is currently in “very preliminary talks” with Antioch College leaders regarding the potential use of the Antioch Inn, according to Hogarty.

In response to a question, Doug Gallow stated that adding more space on top of the current senior center is probably not doable, due to the high cost of constructing elevators, stairs and new restrooms.

If a new senior center is located further away from downtown, center leaders might consider using a trolley to transport seniors downtown, according to Carmen Milano.

Overall, said Richard Cook, “There are a lot of different ways to skin the cat. We need to think outside the box, to use our creativity.” Cook also encouraged center leaders not to focus on the amount of square footage needed, but rather to think of a new center in terms of how it would solve current problems.

In an interview following the meeting, Senior Center Director David Scott said that the next step is for the center’s current facility committee — community members Joe Dowdell, Bob Huston and Betty Felder, and staff members Scott and Corrine Pelzl — to continue to research site options. The current site is not a possibility, he said, and the center’s board is committed to finding an appropriate new site

Personally, he said, he suspects that adapting an existing building is a less expensive way than building a new one to meet the expanded needs of a growing senior population.

“We will build what we can afford to build,” he said, stating that it’s critical that Yellow Springs have adequate space to meet the needs of its large and growing senior population. “We want to use the intelligence and skills of this population to build a better town.”


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