Plans for new Lexington senior center off Richmond Road begin to take shape

bmusgrave@herald-leader.comJanuary 31, 2014 

To stay healthy longer, seniors need socialization, proper nutrition and exercise.

They want to live at home and stay and age in their communities. That's why the new senior center at Idle Hour Park has to be designed to be both inviting and accommodating for today's more active seniors, said John Catlin, a consultant who has designed more than 75 senior centers across the country, 50 of which have been built.

Catlin's presentation Friday at the Phoenix building on key design principles for senior centers was part of a daylong discussion about the new senior center off Richmond Road. The Urban County Council has approved spending $5 million for design for a new center and for land acquisition.

The city opted to use city-owned property at Idle Hour Park off Richmond Road, saving the city more than $300,000. Final cost estimates and designs for the estimated 35,000-square-foot center should be available by March, before Mayor Jim Gray submits his budget to the council.

Catlin has been hired as a consultant by EOP, the lead architects for the center's design.

On Friday, in addition to design, the group was scheduled to discuss programming inside the center and how the center will interact with Idle Hour Park. Earlier this week, there was a public meeting for senior input.

The current center on Alumni Drive was built in 1983. "It was a good building at the time," Catlin said. But its narrow hallways and poor use of space have made it outdated, cramped and less than welcoming.

Many new senior centers no longer have corridors or hallways. The space flows from one area to another, making it more inviting and encouraging more interaction.

People at senior centers can be divided into three camps: "slow-go," those who use a walker, cane or just move slower; "no-go," those in wheelchairs; or "go-go," those with no mobility problems, Catlin said. It's important to design with all three groups in mind.

Closets are a no-no, Catlin said.

Seniors want to see where their coat is. An alcove that has no doors but a long bar for coats is more practical.

"You don't want to get trapped behind a 'slow-go'" at a closet, Catlin said.

Institutional hand rails in hallways and in classroom space can be off-putting for some seniors who don't need them. It's too much like a nursing home. Lean hand rails disguised as wainscotting are better.

"Only people who need them know they are there," Catlin said.

As we age, our vision gets worse. Different types of lighting in all areas is important. But so is color-blocking on the floor.

Carpet or other floor covering that uses color differentiation gives seniors visual clues on their orientation in a room. Door frames should be painted a different color than the wall, so seniors know where the door frames are.

"The number one cause of death for seniors is falls," Catlin said.

All chairs should have armrests. As we age, our abdominal muscles weaken. The armrests help older seniors get out of chairs, Catlin said.

"It's the details that will make the building successful," Catlin said. "We want everybody to stay engaged. The more you are engaged, the more your exercise, the more you eat properly, the healthier that you're going to age and the longer you're going to be able to stay in your home and in the community."

Beth Musgrave: (859) 231-3205. Twitter: @HLCityhall.

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