By LINDSAY CAREY
The Calendar House Senior Center and representatives from BL Companies held a meeting to solicit community feedback on the renovation and expansion project for the senior center on Jan.15.
“This is your meeting, not my meeting,” said BL Companies Denis Rioux Senior Project Manager. “I’ll have my meeting once we make our plan.”
Rioux briefly explained that the senior center is currently 13,000 square feet, but really needs about 20,000 square feet to accommodate as many services as possible at the senior center.
Executive Director of the Calendar House Robert Verderame said that membership at the senior center is at about 7,000 and the center sees about 300 to 350 seniors every day when classes are in session.
“With more space we think we can double that and see between 500 to 800 seniors,” said Verderame.
Verderame explained that he and the committee for this project have already made suggestions for the plans, which includes a fitness room with equipment, separate rooms for leisure activities, a nursing station, a dentist’s chair, and a space to both serve lunch and host cooking classes.
One of the topics a few members expressed concern with at the meeting is the lack of space for activities at the Calendar House. These members shared their frustrations with having to always take down pool tables and table tennis to accommodate for other groups using the space afterwards.
Taking down these tables frequently has caused some wear and tear on the equipment. Verderame assured the members that the new plan would include separate rooms for these kinds of activities.
Another major topic of discussion is the age gap in the interests of senior citizens in their 60s and early 70s. These are members who may still be active and hold a wide range of interests, however, there isn’t as much programming to accommodate the younger members.
Some members suggested having more activities throughout the day or some evening events to entice younger retirees, because right now a great deal of programming is early in the morning.
Calendar House member Janice Freeman spoke about some of the needs she saw for the Calendar House, which included more programming for younger members.
“We have a bunch of very active and moving seniors that don’t have a place to go,” said Freeman. “Let’s make this senior center a place where there’s something for everyone.”
Some of the other needs she suggested in the new plan include programs to promote intellectual stimulation, a lounge to encourage a sense of companionship, and space to enhance fitness and leisure activities.
“Every senior wants to age successfully,” said Freeman. “We need programs that are going to give seniors a reason to get up in the morning, especially those who live alone.”
Freeman also suggested that the Calendar House work with the Town of Southington to create intergenerational programs.
“We have parents who get out of work, pick up the kids and maybe get dinner on the table, but they’re dead tired,” said Freeman. “And on the other hand, we have a lot of seniors who would like to sit down and read a book to a child.”
Calendar House members Jim Gagnan and wife Rita Gagnan, who gets around in a wheelchair, shared their desire to see more provisions for handicapped residents and wounded warriors.
Town Councilor John Barry also made an appearance at the meeting in support of the project of renovating and expanding the Calendar House to accommodate the growing senior population in Southington.
When asked by members how he thought the Town Council would respond to the proposal and make room for it in the budget, Barry said he thought the Council would be receptive to it.
“Of course we are in the early stages and haven’t heard any numbers yet, but I think the Council is open-minded,” said Barry.
Barry also mentioned how the support of State Rep. Dave Zoni and State Rep. Joe Aresimowicz resulted in a $200,000 state grant for this project. Although the grant is a step in the right direction, Barry addressed how support from the town and the community would play a major role in the success of the project.
“The next step is local funding,” said Barry. “We know we’re going to get a plan and we know we’re going to a lot better than we have now, but the real challenge is to lobby and to make sure the Town Council and the Board of Finance fund it and make it a reality.”
Once the plan is complete and if it receives approval from the Council for the budget, it could be a referendum question on the November ballot. Barry advised members of the Calendar House to educate the non-senior population of Southington the value of the senior center, so that they would vote in favor of the renovation project in November.
Verderame assured members that they would have to work on marketing and advertising this project. He suggested that members appear before the council during the public hearing for the budget, once the plan was complete.
Many members at the meeting shared that they felt like the town owed tax paying seniors an improvement in the senior center, because they are still paying taxes towards the school systems even though their children are long out of the schools.
Other members pointed out how the Calendar House pales in comparison to the senior centers in Wallingford and Plainville.