Lexington’s former senior center, at the corner of Nicholasville and Alumni drives, was universally agreed to be cramped and in need of updates.
The new $13 million senior center that debuted Friday off Richmond Road is about double the size of the old center — 33,000 square feet.
It will open Sept. 15, but Friday there was a ribbon-cutting followed by tours.
The new center includes a lot of touches to accommodate seniors, including short corridors between program spaces, said John Catlin, a consultant in senior design who worked on the center. Long corridors can be intimidating to seniors with limited mobility, he said.
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“We call that ‘collapsing the building,’” Catlin said. “We really want to have people feel like they don’t have to go down a long hallway.”
A viewing area and open windows above the auditorium level allows seniors to observe activities going on elsewhere in the center while having a quiet conversation with others.
The exercise room exudes new-car smell and top-of-the-line exercise equipment, from treadmills with TV screens to hand weights and a changing area with a shower, a stone’s throw from a billiards area. A nearby art room is stocked with paints and chalks. A kitchen will allow cooking demonstrations and dining.
The center also will offer music, dancing, cards, billiards and reading.
Friday’s ceremony recognized Ernestine Tomlinson, now 90, who began attending Lexington’s first senior center in 1983. She wasn’t yet 60 when she started — but her husband was, and that allowed her to attend.
Barb Welsch, chairwoman of the seniors participant council, has been coming to the senior center since she retired in 2010.
“We’ve been waiting a long time for this new center to come, but with all it offers us, it was worth the wait,” Welsch said.
The center space is sprinkled with numerous small spaces and conference rooms. Outdoors, there is a gated veranda with seating areas that look like that of an upscale restaurant. The building was designed by EOP Architects of Lexington and built by general contractor Marrillia Design and Construction.
The center overlooks Idle Hour Park and sits on land owned by the city. The park is seeing improvements as well, with additions including pickleball and shuffleboard courts. Lights for the walking trail are expected soon.
Council member Bill Farmer, whose 5th council district includes Idle Hour and the city land on which the center is built, recalled growing up when that space off Richmond Road was “a swamp,” before the development of Lexington Mall. The mall space later became the home of Southland Christian Church’s Richmond Road campus.
The crowd that turned out Friday for the center’s ribbon-cutting and tours nearly overwhelmed even the expanded space. About 500 people attended, some of them shuttled in from Southland’s parking lot next door.
Lexington Mayor Jim Gray told the crowd that he had attended a lot of ribbon-cuttings as mayor, “but this is the best one ever.”