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Devil Is In The Details

Last Friday afternoon, the Garden City Village Hall boardroom was filled with concerned senior citizens attending a special work session regarding the proposed expansion of the senior recreation center on Golf Club Lane.

Presenting an updated preliminary design for the center, H. Bradford Gustavson of NYC based Gustavson Dundes Architecture & Design went through the plan that now offers 3,296 square feet to the existing building of 2,384 square feet. The initial plans proposed last October added 1,652 square feet. Among the building adjustments the architect referred to was the kitchen’s square footage going from 150 to 180 and the meeting room expanding from 1,963-square feet to 2,065.

Gustavson stressed to the board and residents that the plans are preliminary, and that a compromised version between the initial and latest plans could be devised.

Seniors in the village have expressed dissatisfaction with the current center on various fronts, including a lack of space with the growing senior population, non-compliant bathrooms with the American Disabilities Act (ADA), and a small and obsolete kitchen.

Upgrades would include an approximate 550 square foot lounge (an increase of 300 square feet) which would comfortably fit an estimated 25 people, a spot for a greeter, larger windows and higher ceilings, and a new vestibule created for passengers who enter and leave the center. The portico will be where residents can wait under in case of inclement weather should they be waiting for transportation. The originally planned portico did not have a vestibule.

The entrance drive has been modified to permit safe drop off at the portico on the passenger side, with no effect to the existing parking lot. There would also be a small office space for administrative staff to run the center when needed.

Two computers would be also added, one for the greeter and one for senior usage, and a larger meeting room that could also be divided into multiple smaller rooms by way of a motorized partition. New storage space has also been added.

The meeting room could hold approximately 280 people for lecture-type seating, or 120 with tables and chairs. Gustavson said that these numbers are plus or minus depending on furniture layouts to comply with building codes for egress.

The bathrooms will be reorganized, ADA compliant, and will include a family toilet, should seniors have an aide with them.

Drinking fountains have also been added, and a larger warming kitchen could now serve multiple rooms and the exterior. Improvements to the exterior terrace and grille area, including a new patio, are also being proposed.

Village of Garden City Mayor John Watras said the board will vote “very soon,” and is currently in the finalization process.

“We’re going through a couple of scenarios, and need to discuss a few more things amongst ourselves - a decision is imminent,” Watras said.

Overall, the seniors attending responded favorably to the preliminary plans, and urged the board to not delay a decision any longer than necessary.

Trustee Robert Bolebruch brought up concerns raised at previous meetings that the village board was not “focused” on the needs of the seniors, saying: “The bottom line is, as you can see, the board is focused, however there is a point when there is making a decision, and making what we believe to be the right decision.”

Trustee Nicholas P. Episcopia summed up the debate as “about money and size - how much square footage was in the initial plan, and how much is in the new plan, which is double the amount.”

Earlier in August, the board released a statement that the costs to finance the renovation and expansion was anticipated to take place over a 10-year period, and would average less than $100,000 per year, which they stated “is a small fraction of 1 percent of our current village budget.”

However Finance Commissioner and Village Trustee Richard Silver said the current plans are “significantly beyond the commitment that was made before - from a construction standpoint.”

“We haven’t costed out a project of this magnitude, and for those of us that are seeing these plans for the first time tonight, we want to see the numbers,” Silver said, who also included that he was not suggesting that the board back out of any commitments they’ve made previously to do something about the senior center.

Gustavson also said that with his experience, prices on the market are on the way up, so costs for the renovations could increase.

Chairman of the Board of Commissioners of Cultural & Recreational Affairs Kevin Ocker spoke at the work session, supporting the senior center renovations as “an opportunity to enrich the lives of our seniors with a true center - our senior population is not going to get less than it already is.”

Ocker expressed urgency for the senior center to provide more programs, such as a recently approved fall prevention and rebalancing training program through Winthrop Hospital. Ocker also voiced support for a volunteer program at the senior center, saying “It will not only keep costs down, but engage the community.” Other suggestions made by Ocker were a geothermal system for environmental conservation purposes, and the exploration of programs for people who aren’t senior citizens.

As a follow up to Ocker’s comments, a resident asked for specific examples of programs to be developed at the senior center for others, such as teens, which Watras said this will be an “all inclusive center” for seniors and community members, however said he was not yet prepared to go into specifics of what programs would be available to other groups.

Among other questions asked by seniors attending were about a potential fundraising campaign for the center, which Watras responded to favorably and said he would look into.

A survey of senior citizens conducted last August was also brought up, which according to one resident’s findings, 85 percent (15 out of 20 seniors) showed not to belong to any group or club. Beside him, another resident emotionally responded: “I never got the survey, and neither did one-third of the people I asked.”

Offering somewhat of an explanation, a third senior resident said: “There are a lot of people that don’t belong to clubs because they don’t want to feel compelled or obligated to spend all their time on one thing - they want to be diverse.”

Another senior said to the board that the needs of the seniors are simply a place to gather for a drop-in place, and three things: social interaction, physical activity and mental activity.

Trustee Episcopia also urged the board to become involved with the National Institute of Senior Centers, a non-profit headquartered in Washington DC to help serve senior citizens.

“They specifically analyze senior centers nationwide, and find out what they need - we can plug into various models of senior centers and find out what they are doing” Episcopia said, who suggested attending a conference the non-profit is holding next month from Oct. 2 to 4 in Sturbridge, MA.