The Astoria Senior Center officially reopened on Exchange Street today after a two-year tenancy at the city’s Yacht Club, but the day before, a handful of seniors had already made the freshly renovated center a part of their routines once again.
While about half a dozen women showed up to line dance in the new dance hall, Norm Mullins, of Astoria, broke in the pool room. The sounds of country pop blended with the clacking of billiard balls, and both were drowned out now and then by the high-pitched buzzing of electric drills as workmen put the final touches on the overhaul.
Standing near the pool table, cue stick in hand, Mullins, a senior center member for about five years, rendered his verdict on the improvements: “I love it,” he said, laughing. “A lot better than it was the last time.”
Before the makeover, “it was a very deplorable building,” Project Director Al Jaques said. The center’s interior mainly consisted of a large open space with a small craft area. The heating and electric systems were ineffective, and there wasn’t a separate area to treat members dealing with medical conditions.
In addition to the dance hall and pool room, seniors can now enjoy a craft room, a well-furnished reception area and more natural light. The remodel also comes with a classroom for ENCORE (Exploring New Concepts in Retirement Education) classes, a health room (complete with a hospital bed), new bathrooms and a full commercial kitchen, where the nonprofit Columbia Senior Diners will cook regularly, John Ryan, the center’s board president, said.
All the old services and activities — crafts, card games, board games, billiards, mahjong, pinochle, shopping trips, exercise classes and bingo — remain on offer.
“The senior center is ‘coming home’ I like to say,” Executive Director Larry Miller said. “This is the center of some folks’ activity.”
A nonprofit organization housed in a city-owned building, the senior center originally closed in January 2014, with the expectation that it would reopen the following August.
But it took longer than anticipated for the city to acquire the full grant money needed to pay for the project, which originally included renovations in the basement but was narrowed to a ground-floor upgrade.
Construction finally got underway last summer. The total cost of the project was roughly $1.7 million; additional fundraising paid for such amenities as a high-definition TV and furniture for the reception room.
Meanwhile, the center operated out of the Yacht Club on West Marine Drive, a location that for some seniors is rather out of the way.
Over the last two years, the center lost about 100 members, bringing the total down to just over 400, Miller said.
“We lost them because of the fact that it’s difficult for people who live in downtown Astoria, that do not have automobiles, to go to the old Yacht Club,” he said. “Most seniors can’t afford to take a taxi wherever they want to go.”
“Some people find change difficult, too,” he added. “I know a lot of folks didn’t come because they were upset that we had left here.”
Now that the long-awaited rehab is complete, a number of former members have rejoined the center, Miller said.
“Honestly, with the building the way it is, and being back in town, I’m sure our numbers are going to grow real fast,” he said.
Rolls will even include people who weren’t senior center members when it occupied the building last time.
Ron Danen, of Astoria, took a tour of the site as the construction team was still remodeling it and now plans to show up with his wife, Chong, quite often.
Thumbing through a National Geographic in the reception area, Danen took a look around and said, “It seems to be quite fabulous.”
Title: Senior center back in swing of things
Date: January 26th, 2016
Author: Erick Bengel
Publication: The Daily Astorian