Among all the happy people shoveling dirt at Monday morning's groundbreaking for the new Lexington Senior Citizens Center, no one was beaming more brightly than Ernestine Tomlinson.
Tomlinson, 88, attended the grand opening of the existing senior center on Nicholasville Road 31 years ago, has been a fixture there ever since, and has attended many of the meetings, debates and discussions about the need for a new, more modern place.
"Yes, yes, yes. This project means so much," she said afterward. "When the old center opened, it became my second home, and my husband just loved it."
City officials are betting that lots of seniors will love the new center when it opens in early 2016 at Idle Hour Park.
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Mayor Jim Gray, who led the ceremonies, called the groundbreaking a "significant milestone for our city."
Vice Mayor Linda Gorton noted the years of work that have gone into plans for the new senior center. She noted that officials studied crime statistics, crime patterns and other factors just in deciding where the center should be.
"We wanted it to be good for a long time," she said. "This is a big deal," she said. "It has been a long time since we have broken ground on a building that the government is funding and building."
Councilman Bill Farmer, who represents the Idle Hour area, called the senior center "one of the most complicated projects this city has ever undertaken.
"It's a storm water project; it's a sewer project; it's a park project; but it's this senior citizen's center that we're here about today," he said. "I hope to meet you all here as seniors together."
Gray promised that the $13 million center would be "world-class," with plenty of "vibrant space," offering art studios and classrooms, music rooms, a gardening area, a café, and room for badminton, horse shows and volleyball.
Gray said Lexington had only about 26,000 senior citizens when the first center opened. Today, he said, Lexington has more than 50,000 seniors who can use services the new center will offer.
City officials considered a number of sites before selecting Idle Hour Park, just behind Southland Christian Church's new Richmond Road campus.
More than 100 people — most of them seniors — turned out for Monday's groundbreaking, filling a tent set up at the site to provide shelter from the morning rain.
Tomlinson said that when she began attending the current center with her late husband, Charles, in the 1980s, she technically wasn't old enough to be a member.
"I wasn't old enough to come, but he was, and they let me in," she said. "I couldn't have gone through all this if I had not had the center."