Senior center to open in 2013

Photo by Carly Farrell

Photo by Carly Farrell

ALBANY, Ga. -- A project that will one day bring all of the SOWEGA Council on Aging's services under one roof is now deep into the design phase.

It's a project that has been several years in the making, and the staff at the council is as excited as anybody that it is finally becoming a reality.

"It's really exciting," said Kay Hind, executive director of the council.

"It's going to have all of our offices and all of our services provided in one place.

"We will have many programs there. Almost any program that people would want to have (will be there)."

It's an asset that is also badly needed, Hind said.

"We cover 14 counties, and all of them have built new senior centers in the last 25 years. Albany is the only one without a new place," she said. "We looked for places and funding, and it wasn't until we were given a piece of land that we were able to move forward.

"We're looking forward to moving into it."

Six properties have been demolished on the site of the former Byne Memorial Baptist Church property facing Society Avenue to make way for the center. The building still remaining on the property will be renovated, with a new building to be added in front of it.

In September 2008, Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital donated the old Byne property, which the hospital had purchased after it was vacated, to house the center.

"When we acquired the property, we didn't have a specific purpose in mind, but when SOWEGA Council on Aging was looking for a place, it seemed to fit," said Joel Wernick, CEO of Phoebe Putney Health Systems.

"Making sure the community's senior citizens have a quality facility is an extension of what we do."

Local donations, a Housing and Urban Development grant and $3 million in special-purpose local-option sales tax funding have brought the total raised so far for the project to roughly $5 million.

The estimated cost for the center will be between $7 million and $9 million, so the council has not finished raising money yet.

"We will have a fundraising campaign that hopefully will begin next month," Hind said. "A committee has been formed to make preliminary plans for several events and one large event.

"We are looking for grant opportunities as well as foundation funding."

Construction of the center will bring the council's three office buildings and two senior center locations together and probably will result in new jobs, Hind said.

"I hope the community will really accept it and use it," she added. "I think people are aware of what we are doing and are very excited.

They've been very supportive."

George Flynn of Flynn Finderup Architects in Marietta and Kent McClure of Yielding, Wakeford and McGee in Albany are involved in drafting the plans for the center, and will eventually be calling for quotes on construction.

"(The center) is being designed to keep in mind the architecture of a historical neighborhood of the 1920s," McClure said.

On the west side of the property, the plans call for a large wall to be moved to create an embankment. The first floor of the existing building will consist of staff offices; the second floor will include the senior center services, and the third floor will be for program space.

The new building, which will be 8,000 square feet, will have a lounge and reception area. There will be a metal roof added onto both buildings.

The resources available to the community at the center will include common areas, a multipurpose room, an exercise room, a computer lab, a kitchen, as well as crafts and sewing areas.

There is also a lecture hall planned for the facility, which will be used for seminars and other various programs.

"Everybody's happy with it. Things are clicking along," McClure said. "It will be an asset to the community."

Flynn, even though he is based in Marietta, has dealt with Albany projects such as the physical education building at Darton College. His firm has also had experience with several senior centers in the metro Atlanta area.

"The SOWEGA Council on Aging has some of the nicest folks we have worked with," he said. "I suspect this (senior center) will be huge.

"From what we've seen, when something like this is built, activity skyrockets. People then realize what opportunities are available to them."

This project is unique in that a substantial existing structure is being revitalized.

"It's a very environmentally friendly thing to do," Flynn said.

The center will be for the community as a whole once it opens, but still will fulfill the mission the council has in serving the area's older citizens.

"I believe that staying busy is critical to staying mentally alert," Hind said. "It will bring us to a whole new level of service."

There is the possibility of walking paths and a garden being added outside the facility, the executive director said.

The next step after the design phase will be to create a set of bid documents of drawings and specifications, and then start accepting bids from contractors. Bids are anticipated to go out for the project in November, with an anticipated completion date in the first quarter of 2013 after roughly 12 months of construction.

The process of clearing the existing building for construction is expected to be complete by the end of this month.