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SOWEGA Council on Aging Senior Life Enrichment Center to be occupied next month

Construction wrapping up on West Society Avenue senior center

Debbie Blanton, assistant director of the SOWEGA Council on Aging, addresses the Dougherty Rotary Club on Tuesday to give an update on what is going on at the agency. The Council on Aging is about to move into its new center on West Society Avenue next month. (Staff Photo: Jennifer Parks)

Debbie Blanton, assistant director of the SOWEGA Council on Aging, addresses the Dougherty Rotary Club on Tuesday to give an update on what is going on at the agency. The Council on Aging is about to move into its new center on West Society Avenue next month. (Staff Photo: Jennifer Parks)

ALBANY — Progress is on track for the new SOWEGA Council on Aging Senior Life Enrichment Center, with occupancy of the building set to begin in a few weeks, officials at the Council on Aging say.

The 45,000-square-foot center — which is being built at a site formerly owned by Byne Memorial Baptist Church —will be seeing some activity soon as SOWEGA Council on Aging begins to move into the building throughout the month of December prior to its grand opening in January.

Debbie Blanton, assistant director of SOWEGA Council on Aging, and Izzie Sadler, the agency’s development director, gave an update on the center — as well as the Council in general — to the Dougherty Rotary Club on Tuesday.

Blanton started off by giving gratitude to the civic club for the services it is involved in that the Council’s clients benefit from, such as Meals on Wheels and Santas for Seniors. Then she made mention of some incoming cuts that are at least expected to impact clients receiving home delivered meals through the agency.

“Last Friday, we received notice that we would be getting a $300,000 cut (as part of) the sequester, and $130,000 will directly affect our nutrition program,” she said. “This is about the first time we have received cuts, but it will not be the last.”

Such cuts affect programs and services the agency offers, which is not the same pool of funding used to pay off the costs of the new center. In all, the project is a $7.8 million undertaking with funding being secured for the center through special-purpose, local-option sales tax dollars, funding from the city and Housing and Urban Development grants as well as loans, capital campaigns, donations, fundraising events and property sales.

Before turning the program over to Sadler to talk more about the new center, Blanton had one thing to say about the facility. “It’s a beautiful memorial to aging. It’s a great place to grow old.”

The land for the facility was purchased by Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital after Byne moved out, and Phoebe donated it in 2008 to SOWEGA Council on Aging. Over time, funding for the project was collected, and ground was eventually broken at the site — at 335 W. Society Ave. — in October 2012. The center, designed to bring the resources of five facilities under one roof, will include at least two elevators, a den, a kitchen that will be used for the Meals on Wheels program as well as other community events, a dining room that will have the same wood floor used for the gymnasium once in its place, a boardroom with a smart board, more than 80 offices, an overflow room for receptions, a classroom, computer lab, craft rooms and a fitness room.

The dining room, Sadler said, will be big enough to seat 300 people banquet style, or 500 people theater style.

Currently, the council offers 20 programs and services by utilizing 15 centers in 14 counties.

“There are 10,000 people a day turning 65,” Sadler said. “We are trying to figure out a way locally … how the community is going to meet that need.”

The fitness room will be dedicated to Jessi Massey, mother of Albany retired coach and educator Jesse Massey, for the $10,000 contribution he made earlier this year to the Council on Aging for the purchase of fitness equipment. Other than donation from Massey in September, among the most recent contributions to be made include $300,000 in additional funding approved by the Albany City Commission last month and a benefit concert on Saturday featuring Todd Allen Herendeen.

The first event slated to take place at the new center will be the Empty Bowls fundraiser to benefit Meals on Wheels and the Albany Area Arts Council. It will take place Jan. 27 with tickets costing $20 each. Attendees will get a soup lunch, and will then be able to take home a bowl made by an area artist, Sadler said.