The Woodbridge Center, located in the basement of what once served as the town’s elementary school, is in dire need of an upgrade, that’s the gist of Human Services Director Mary Ellen LaRocca’s presentation to a joint meeting of the Boards of Finance and Selectmen in December 2018. “What we’re trying to do is to provide programs and services to people 55 and over, “she said, adding that represents about 35% of the Woodbridge population.
Their work focuses on nutrition, socialization and transportation as well as education, she said. “We need the tools to get the job done.”
What she and Human Services Commission member Susan Davidson presented were plans drawn up by the architectural firm of Silver Petrucelli. The project involves some re-assigning of spaces, adding storage and new furniture. The basic layout stays unchanged, with a large lounge and cafeteria. But the plan shows a reception desk where the current coat closet is; the current assistant’s office would become a small office for the nurse and social workers and for the drivers to do their paperwork.
There would be new storage throughout; a built-in in the lounge with a cabinet for a TV screen for presentations, lectures and movies. The orientation of the cafeteria would switch to face the back wall when there are bigger events, with a pull-down screen. The mural will have to make room for new artwork, as the plan is to turn that wall into a gallery wall. The mural would be photographed and framed to keep its memory alive.
“The Center is 40 years old and it shows it,” said Senior Center Director Jeanette Glicksman. But the issue is not just one of spit-n-polish. The goal is to make the programs meaningful and the spaces ready to accommodate them.
A motorized wall could allow them to partition the cafeteria into two separate areas, and offer three programs at the same time. The side effect would be that participants in one program may see and interact with those of a different program and be inspired to try something new. A counter along the lounge wall would accommodate laptop computers.
The redesign was worked on with a committee consisting of Commissioners Susan Davidson, Sharon Bender and Jane Gelernter; Town Hall administrative assistant Betsy Yagla and LaRocca and Glicksman. They started by visiting a number of senior centers in the wider area, many of which also are located in former schools and/or basements. What they found was that other centers function as work-out centers, cafes, clubs and educational centers.
Glicksman said people bond as they do things together. “You’d be surprised how many times I was asked whether we’re open between Christmas and New Year’s,” she said. Loneliness and depression among the elderly are hard to overcome.
The redesign could be split into two phases, according to LaRocca, with $195,000 plugged in for Fiscal Year 2020, and $170,000 for the following year. Phase One would focus on the lounge, reception and entrance area; Phase Two on the cafeteria and kitchen cabinets. “We are needy, but not greedy,” said Susan Davidson about the project. She said the town should not regard it as a “senior” project rather than a Woodbridge project, which will benefit the town as a whole.
Asked whether the enhanced programming would entail additional expenses, Glicksman said the programs typically pay for themselves, through fees or donations. However, she said as the senior population is growing, the center may need a full-time assistant to keep up with paperwork etc.
Bathroom, ramp: Programming at the center has been dispersed the last few weeks, as construction has started on a wheelchair-accessible bathroom downstairs on the cafeteria level. The bathroom is expected to be done by January 18 and Glicksman is looking forward to getting back to a normal schedule.
Construction also has started outside on a ramp from the portico to a door to the lounge, for emergency egress only. For some big events, they may have 20-30 people in wheelchairs, with walkers and canes, LaRocca said. One year an alarm went off in the building. Luckily it was a false alarm, but even so. The elevator cannot be used in an emergency.
When construction started on the ramp back in October, they found drainage pipes, which need to be buried underground. The plans for the ramp had to be redrawn and re-approved by the state. At this point they are waiting for the weather to warm up before they can bury those pipes.
- Senior Center Director Jeanette Glicksman inspects the newly opened, much smaller office space for her assistant. Part of the office space was incorporated into the new bathroom, which is about to be opened. The proposed redesign has this space for the nurse to meet with seniors and for the drivers to do their paperwork.
- Plans for a redesign of the Woodbridge Center
By Bettina Thiel – Woodbridge Town News Ccorrespondent