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Senior center project begins

ALBANY -- A project that has been in the works for many years is finally starting to see some progress.

Demolition on the site formerly occupied by Byne Memorial Baptist Church in downtown Albany is currently under way to prepare for a new SOWEGA Council on Aging senior center to be built on the property.

"A couple of weeks ago we received final permission to begin demolition and construction," said Kay Hind, the council's executive director.

The properties at the council's disposal include the old Byne church building, the church's educational wing, a gymnasium and school building, the church's former administration office and some old homes sitting on the property -- including one that once belonged to Nelson Tift, the founder of Albany.

The project's first step will be to demolish structures that will not be used as part of the center, after which renovation will begin on the building that will be utilized.

"We are saving the large building to use as an office building and a senior center," Hind said. "Our goal is to have a state-of-the-art facility available to all senior citizens."

The first floor of the building will be used for office space, while the senior center will be on the second floor. The facility includes 33,587 square feet. There are no current plans for the former Tift home, but crews will be demolishing the sections that were added over time, leaving just the two-room original structure, Hind said.

Hind said that a capital fundraising project will be held to continue to bring money for the project together, but it is unclear at this point what that effort will entail.

Walking paths and exercise equipment is included in the current plan for the site. Officials plan to build a community center once funds become available, Hind said.

"One of the first priorities is to raise money for the first building," she said. "We are just at the beginning. I feel confident the money will come together."

The purpose behind developing the facility is to accommodate growth, as some of the existing centers in the area don't have the luxury of expanding.

"One of the reasons we want a new center is because we want one large enough to bring additional people and programs," Hind explained. "We have a lot of ideas for programs and activities. We think it will be an asset.

"I'm just pleased we are finally able to move forward with it. We feel like we are doing something not only for older people but for the entire city."

Hind said it is too early to speculate about a completion date.

The property is on a block bound by Society Avenue, Jefferson Street, First Avenue and Jackson Street. Once completed, the center will be accessible from First and Society. The property, which was initially purchased a few years earlier, was donated to the Council on Aging by Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital in 2008.

"Phoebe bought it and deeded it to us," Hind said.

While the senior center was not Phoebe's original intent for the property, those with the health system say they are happy with what is being invested into it.

"When we purchased the property, our goal was to continue to (pursue) health-related neighbors," said hospital CEO Joel Wernick. "The Council was looking for a new location. When we suggested to the Council we had land to suit their needs, they felt it met their vision.

"We're excited about the potential for the community to have a new senior center. We're excited to see demolition (and construction) and will be watching it closely."