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Not your grandma's senior center

Renovations at Elsie Stuhr Center take lead on projects
by: Jaime Valdez Elsie Stuhr Center Supervisor Linda Jo Enger talks with Hillary Smith of Raleigh Hills during her workout. Smith has already forgotten what the old fitness room at the center looked like.

On any given day at the Elsie Stuhr Center, you'll find scores of legs pumping, arms flexing and experienced-yet-spry bodies bending and twisting on a variety of exercise machines and in classes - from Thai-chi to yoga.

The joint has always been busy, but a recently completed renovation has more than doubled the space of the fitness room and cleared the way for new, state-of-the-art equipment. As a result, many regular users of the senior-oriented activities center 'for patrons 55 and better' at 5550 S.W. Hall Blvd. are finding in their workouts more gain and less pain.

'This is fabulous. You don't have to wait to use the equipment. You're not all on top of each other,' said Aloha resident Stephanie Keyes during a break in her Monday morning routine. 'The equipment is arranged in an easy-to-follow manner. This is one of those things that's really worth it.'

The 'it' Keyes refers to is the $100 million bond measure voters in the Tualatin Hills Park and Recreation District approved in 2008. The measure backed a comprehensive district plan to improve parks and facilities, protect natural areas, develop athletic fields and construct new trails across the district.

While the sputtering economy keeps private-sector construction activity in the slow lane, bond measure-funded projects in the park district this spring are nearing overdrive. With 41 of the 129 outlined projects completed in a little more than three years, three more about to reach fruition and others set to begin by summer, the district is going great guns on its voter-directed mission.

'We're delivering on our promise to the voters,' said park district General Manager Doug Menke. 'They gave us a directive, and we're moving quickly on all fronts.'

Making progress

Save for some landscaping work in front, the extensive remodeling at the Stuhr Center - including a new copper-colored roof and inviting, wood-grained entrance lobby - is complete.

Over at Camille Park, at Marjorie Street and 105th Avenue, revitalization and natural-area restoration projects are nearly finished, and expansions and additions at Conestoga Recreation and Aquatic Center - including the district's first splash pad water park - are set for completion in June.

All the bond projects in play are on schedule and falling within budget.

'We're into our fourth year of implementation, and many of the projects are complete or well under way,' observed Bob Wayt, park district spokesman. 'We're right on schedule in terms of finishing all the projects by 2016 and 2017.'

While having updated facilities to enjoy was likely the primary motivator behind the bond measure's support, Wayt emphasizes the side effect the investment has had on the economy.

'The bond measure is providing a lot of work, and a lot of dollars for the local economy,' he said. 'Even the contractors from outside the area are supporting local restaurants and suppliers. The value of the bond measure in helping during an economic lag for our area can't be overstated.'

Old is new again

Those who've wander into the Stuhr Center lobby these days may not recognize the warmly rustic ambience of the 37-year-old building's formerly utilitarian environs. Stylishly handsome, cozy chairs framing the new information desk and the dark-orange carpeting squares conspire to welcome guests like never before.

'We wanted people to feel like this is a welcoming place to sit and wait,' said Linda Jo Enger, director of the center since 1984.

Aside from the lobby and adjacent fitness room, the renovation of the 22,000-square-foot building - which contractor Seabold Construction kicked off last summer - provides a newly configured multipurpose room and additional office and classroom space. Patrons can also enjoy freshly tiled restrooms with new sinks and facilities that meet Americans with Disabilities Act guidelines.

Outside the center, fresh landscaping is punctuated with bioswails - rain-garden planters designed to absorb runoff storm water - and a parking lot with 11 new spaces, including two more that are ADA accessible.

Family project

With the exception of a 1,370-square-foot addition in front, most of the Stuhr Center project involved reworking existing space. Unfortunately, Enger said, this meant sacrificing the popular library to make way for the new, 2,436-square-foot fitness area, and replacing the gift shop with classrooms.

'People still have the ability to get books - hardbacks and paperbacks - here,' Enger said. 'We've grown so much in the last few years, we just needed more class space. I think the most important thing is the opportunity to have a top-of-the-line fitness room.'

Dottie Katsules, who comes in to work out about three times a week, couldn't agree more.

'I think the improvements here will stand up to any fitness center around,' she said. 'They did a great, great job.'

Beaming about the center's new lease on life, Enger said she's pleased she and her staff were able to keep the center open through the renovation process. Furthermore, she's delighted by the patience and support of the center's patrons during the disruptive ordeal.

'This is their home away from home,' she said. 'This place becomes like family.'