Perhaps by way of necessity, the staff and volunteers at the Powell Senior Center are pretty resourceful; they have a lot to do in a very small building.
Every room at the North Gilbert Street center serves multiple purposes. Besides meals, the dining room also serves as a gaming area — sometimes hosting games of pinochle and dominoes at the same time — and as a community venue for demonstrations and programs. The garage houses medical loan equipment, such as wheelchairs and crutches, and the library is also the administrative meeting room.
“We have to get pretty creative with how we use space,” said Cathy Florian, program director for the center.
But that may change: Florian and the Senior Center Board of Directors are pursuing a plan to build a new senior center, which will, among other things, have much more space.
The board already has a location picked out for the new center — by the Rocky Mountain Manor — but raising the funding and making other arrangements for the facility is expected to take several years.
A ‘can do’ approach
It’s an ambitious goal, and despite the obstacles that lie ahead, Florian speaks optimistically about making it happen.
It’s an attitude she attributes in part to Roger Dunn, who died last month. He worked as a driver at the facility, and his family requested memorial donations in his name go to the senior center. When it came to the new building, Dunn had an unwavering commitment and “can do” attitude,” Florian said.
Besides expanding the square footage, Florian wants to make the envisioned facility a single-level building. The current center is split between three levels. Built in the 1960s or 1970s, the only way to access the upper level or basement (where the exercise room is located) is by stairs.
Jim Wysocki said the Powell Senior Center Board of Directors sometimes holds their meetings in the dining room on the first floor, because board members can’t get up the stairs to the center’s boardroom. It’s not just inconvenient — it’s potentially dangerous for the elderly.
“It’s not a safe building for older people,” said board member Al Althoff.
The new facility will be completely compliant with the American with Disabilities Act, making it much more accessible for seniors.
Finding the money
As is the case with all construction, the challenge is getting the funding. At its Feb. 19 meeting, the Powell City Council agreed to be the fiscal agent on a request for a $500,000 Community Development Block Grant (CDBG), with no required match from the city.
“I know our seniors are very active over there and appreciate the support we give them,” Council President Jim Hillberry said during Florian’s presentation to the council.
The current application, however, is not for the funding; it’s just an application for an eligibility review.
If the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development determines the new senior center is eligible, Florian can then submit an application for the CDBG funding itself.
And if HUD approves the request, the half-million dollars will only be a start. At this early stage, there is no firm budget for the project, but Florian’s rough estimation puts the main building alone at over $1 million.
She also hopes to add a new garage, with three bays featuring enough depth for two rows of vehicles. Florian said the Wyoming Department of Transportation has some resources that might help with that aspect of the project.
As for other possible sources of funding, she wants to feel them out a bit before she discusses them publicly.
If all goes well, she expects it will take three to five years just to break ground.
“It’s a long haul,” Florian said.
Fortunately, Rocky Mountain Manor has agreed to gift the land — near the corner of Douglas and Second streets, where tennis courts currently sit — so that key aspect of the project is already in place.
For more than seniors
The benefits of the project go beyond creating a facility that’s more accommodating for seniors. Florian also wants to improve outreach with the community. The larger, dedicated meeting space would allow for more programs. For example, they hold community classes on subjects like taxes, and those kinds of offerings could be more frequent and expanded.
Currently, the Powell Senior Center can rent out its dining room as a community space, but scheduling is limited. However, due to the stipulations of the center’s funding, they aren’t allowed to rent out the kitchen, even when it isn’t in use. The current vision for the new building includes a kitchenette in the community room, which could be rented.
The new facility would also be located next to Washington Park, which could be used in conjunction with the community room for events and organizations.
Facilities like the Powell Senior Center could become much more vital for Wyoming. In another decade or so, Wyoming will become the oldest state — meaning senior citizens will compose a greater portion of the population of Wyoming than any other state in the country.
That will put a huge strain on the state’s health care resources. A 2017 Wyoming Department of Health paper suggested, among other policy prescriptions, a greater reliance on home-based care options over long-term care facilities, which are considerably more expensive. This means keeping seniors in their homes — and senior centers like Powell’s provide services that enable seniors to get support while living at home. Besides being cheaper, seniors usually prefer it.
“It’s a win-win,” Florian said.