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Lymes' seniors hope detailed drawings will bring center renovation into focus

Old Lyme – Securing detailed designs is the next step in a process that seniors in Lyme and Old Lyme hope will result in the expansion of the senior center to meet the needs of a growing 55-plus population.

Lymes' Senior Center Building Committee Chairwoman Jeri Baker said those demographics reflect trends across the state and country.

"Nobody's getting any younger," she said.

Baker has been pitching a plan devised by the building committee, which consists of members appointed by their respective towns, to build on a $19,500 feasibility study commissioned last spring. She is asking for each town's support to move forward with the detailed design and cost estimates that are needed before getting to construction.

She estimated the schematic design phase could cost between $70,000 and $80,000.

General concepts from the feasibility study looked at reorganizing and renovating the 5,786-square-foot layout, while  presenting two expansion options.

The center's board of directors has been working since 2018 to come up with a plan to address what Baker described as "exploding" membership numbers. She said the number of center members jumped from 300 to more than 1,500 in just five years prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Preliminary estimates for a possible expansion range from $3.3 million to $3.7 million, based on the two options presented by Point One Architects of Old Lyme. Baker emphasized the committee hasn't settled on a final design yet.

"This is not the final plan and we know that," she told selectmen. "We know that we're going to have to revise the plan and work toward one that's acceptable to both towns as well as the constituents this center serves."

She said the group is also committed to raising money through grants and donations "as much as we can" to offset the cost to taxpayers.

Located in Old Lyme on Town Woods Road, the center was built in 1996 and has not undergone renovations since. Supporters at last week's Board of Selectmen's meeting talked about the lack of space and inability to host more than one program at a time. They shared stories about tap dancers who had to tap on carpet due to lack of space and a visiting town nurse who lacks dedicated, private space.

Senior Center member Sue Campbell put it this way when she called into the meeting to support the expansion: "We want to grow, and you need space to grow," she said. "Just like a little kid needs space, well, old folks do, too."

The issue is being examined at the same time the Region 18 school district considers more than $40 million in upgrades to its prekindergarten, elementary and middle schools that range from basic mechanical and safety improvements to full-scale renovations that would add 20 years of useful life and more space.

Expansion plans

The two expansion concepts outlined by the architects include option one, a 8,575-square-foot layout that builds westward toward the High Hopes Therapeutic Riding, and option two, a 9,900-square-foot layout with the addition built on the southern end of the building.

Both alternatives feature a 1,866-square-foot multipurpose room and adjoining multipurpose area with flexible walls that can be opened or closed based on needs. There's also a welcome area, library and additional small multipurpose area for activities such as arts and crafts, health clinics and hairdressing appointments.

An enclosed porch and a covered entry that can accommodate ambulances are included in both concepts.

One of the biggest differences is the kitchen, which in the first option is 814 square feet compared to 410 square feet in the second option. Baker said the extra space for cooking, serving and eating was one of the reasons more people at two focus groups preferred the first option.

The building committee's directive to the architects was to make sure any options remain "intimate" and personal, which she described as a hallmark of the center.

"We don't want an expansion that makes us an institution," she told selectmen last week. "We want an expansion that keeps the character of the building ... but also feels like home."

Moving forward

While the Board of Selectmen last week voted to authorize the building committee to put the schematic designs out to bid, First Selectman Tim Griswold on Monday said there are still outstanding questions that could affect the next step.

He suggested it might be possible to waive the bidding requirements to continue with Point One as the project architect, which would maintain continuity and streamline the process.

But Griswold also said it still needs to be determined if both towns are willing to pay for the estimated $70,000 to $80,000 that any schematic drawings could cost.

According to Baker, the architects have some questions regarding property boundaries and ownership of the land that could affect how much each town pays.

The agreement between the towns that launched the partnership in 1994 states Old Lyme has a 75% interest in the senior center and Lyme has a 25% interest. It specified that the "Senior Center, to be constructed on land currently owned by Old Lyme on Town Woods road, shall be owned as tenants-in-common by the Towns of Old Lyme and Lyme,"

Griswold said a joint meeting between the towns may be in order.

"It might be sensible to have the two boards of selectmen and two boards of finance come together and have a question and answer period, possibly with the building committee and whomever else might be helpful," he said.

Lyme First Selectman Steve Mattson said Friday that Baker will present a project update to selectmen in February. He expressed optimism that Lyme officials will support the town's portion of the schematic drawing costs.

"I would hope that would get into our budget planning for this year, which we're in the middle of right now," he said.

The Lyme budget must be approved by the finance board and then voters before going into effect. The next budget year starts July 1, which makes that the earliest the building committee would be able to access the funds to pay for the drawings.

Baker expressed optimism both towns will incorporate the costs for the schematic drawings into the 2022-23 budget "so we could actually kick off July 1."

e.regan@theday.com

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