Idle Hour Park will be the site for Lexington's new senior citizens' center, Urban County Council members decided Tuesday afternoon.
Council members discussed three other possible locations during their work session — Liberty Park, Turfland Mall, and a site near the YMCA on West Loudon Avenue — before unanimously approving Idle Hour Park.
The vote drew immediate applause from senior citizens in the audience, many of whom had been waiting for years to see progress on plans for a new facility to replace the current center on Alumni Drive.
"I think the perseverance has paid off," Charles "Tony" Higdon, a longtime center volunteer, said after the vote. "This site is accessible; it's still inside New Circle Road; it's something we've all dreamed of for the last 10 years."
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Idle Hour Park is near the intersection of New Circle Road and Richmond Road, behind Southland Christian Church's new Richmond Road campus.
Council members said they liked the park's easy accessibility from Richmond Road and New Circle, and the fact that the government already owns the land. With no property acquisition costs, there will be more dollars for construction, they said.
Building the new center probably will take about 18 months, Chief Administrative Officer Sally Hamilton told the council. She said the new facility could be open in two years.
Hamilton said government staffers will get to work Wednesday on the many details that must be worked out. Among them will be arranging to move the park's football field, which now is used by a popular youth football program.
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The intent would be to place the field elsewhere in the 23.8-acre park. Council members stressed that they don't want to disrupt the youth program.
During a lengthy discussion, council members cited the pros and cons of various potential center sites. At one point, Council Member George Meyers suggested the Gay Brewer Jr. Golf Course at Picadome as a location.
But when Council Member Bill Farmer moved for acceptance of Idle Hour Park, other members quickly fell into line behind his motion.
Even so several members, including Peggy Henson, Kevin Stinnett and Jennifer Mossotti, stressed that the youth football program at Idle Hour Park must be preserved.
Parks and Recreation Director Jerry Hancock eased some concerns, telling council members that Idle Hour Park should "lend itself well" to both the youth football program and the senior citizens center.
At-Large Member Steve Kay said the government also should continue to explore the possibility of satellite senior centers in other locations around town. The YMCA has offered to make its facilities available for that purpose, but senior citizens have been cool to the idea.
Tuesday's vote came after Hamilton and Social Services Commissioner Beth Mills reported on potential center locations the city has investigated. They said officials checked 25 locations, but rejected most because of location or potential problems such as flooding.
Hamilton and Mills then recommended four sites for the council to consider: Liberty Park off Liberty Road; land near the North Lexington YMCA on West Loudon, and Turfland Mall. They said Turfland actually included two possibilities: purchase of four acres of land behind the old mall, or leasing space in the former Dillard's building.
"We think these four sites probably are the best options at this point," Mills said.
But Council members kept coming back to Idle Hour Park.
Hamilton said plans for the senior citizens center should include an overall effort to "revitalize" Idle Hour Park. She said city officials also will need to talk with Southland Christian Church leaders about such things as possibly using some of the church's parking during off hours to meet needs at the senior center.
Higdon said he thinks most seniors will get behind the Idle Hour location.
"Some may say, "I don't like change.' But they will be there," he said.
Lena Cornett, 93, another center regular, agreed.
"I would have liked Turfland Mall too," she said. "But I live in Edgewater, and this won't be too far for me. I'm thrilled to death."