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Renovation brings senior center into 21st century

The expansion and remodeling should be done by late February
by: Jaime Valdez, KEEPING TRACK OF PROGRESS — Karen Gardner, director of the Tigard Senior Center, often checks on the progress of the center’s remodeling project while continuing to run the various activities and programs normally offered at the senior center but now distributed around different sites in the area.

TIGARD -Tucked back off O'Mara Street, the Tigard Senior Center is not very visible to passersby, but if they could see it, they would be amazed at its transformation.

The center, which was built 27 years ago, is undergoing a major renovation, and if the construction stays on track, the project should be completed Feb. 22, according to Public Works Director Dennis Koellermeier.

'We're going to end up with a very nice building,' he said.

Recently, Karen Gardner, who has been the senior center director for 17 years, and Bill Gerkin, chairman of the Loaves and Fishes Senior Center Board, toured the construction site, with Gardner pointing out changes.

The library is being moved from the end of the dining room into a 619-square-foot addition in front of the old entrance, where a fireplace will separate the library and lecture room from two entrance doors leading to the original reception area and gift shop.

The kitchen will more than double in size and be outfitted with new commercial-grade and properly vented equipment.

Although the larger kitchen will use up some of the dining room space, the dining room will be expanded at the other end where the library was formerly housed.

In addition, the restrooms are being totally renovated, and downstairs on the lower level, a handicapped restroom is being added along with new flooring and a new coat of paint.

Kel-Tec Construction Inc. is the contractor for the job.

'We're very excited,' Gardner said. 'It's going to be so wonderful. Next year, we will apply for a Community Development Block Grant to add a classroom downstairs.

'If I had my way, we would add a terrace off the dining room on top of the new classroom. We have a great view of wetlands, with Fanno Creek beyond. We called this the Lakeside Center in 1996 (during that year's record flooding).'

In March 2005, a Senior Center Site Committee held a community-visioning retreat to start planning for the renovation of the facility.

In mid-2007, the city was awarded $307,000 in Washington County Community Development Block Grant funds to pay for part of the renovation. The city of Tigard contributed $373,000, and Loaves and Fishes agreed to contribute $100,000.

During construction, which started last fall, workers discovered that water had leaked underneath the metal roof, causing damage.

'I think it was partly a flashing issue and maybe poor construction,' Koellermeier said. 'We didn't expect to find that, and we are still working on the cost of a new roof. We should know within the next couple of weeks.'

The senior center was closed down in mid-September, with staff operations and the English-as-a-second-language program moved into the city's Annex building at the intersection of Burnham and Ash streets.

Other activities, including the Tigard Garden Club, the West Side Stamp Club, the mah-jongg class, the Alzheimer's support group, the Knitwits, and water-color and jewelry classes were placed in more than a dozen sites around the city and beyond.

The new set-up seems to be working smoothly, as evidenced by the noon meal served recently at Tigard American Legion Post 158.

Seniors started arriving before 11:30 a.m., and volunteer Audrey Browning waited inside the front door to greet each and every one of them.

'We're making it work,' said kitchen coordinator Theresa Thornton. 'I've got enough help. It's working out just fine. The kitchen is smaller, and I am doing special lunches. I'm making soups from scratch, we have a salad bar every day, and there are dessert choices.'

One logistical issue for Thornton is that the staff does not have access to the freezer, 'so if Loaves and Fishes is using frozen food, it must be delivered on the day we need it,' she said.

Anywhere from 15 to 50 people can show up for lunch on any given day, but Thornton said, 'Tuesday is always a big day, because there's bingo afterward.'

As Browning greeted people, the Meals-On-Wheels drivers returned with the coolers they use when making their rounds to deliver hot lunches to about 100 homebound people.

According to Gardner, the organization's mission is that 'no senior will experience isolation,' and the core of the program is nutrition, plus volunteer activities and educational opportunities.

Thanks to the American Legion, a big part of the senior program - serving communal meals and preparing meals to go - has been successfully transplanted.

'We're so grateful to the American Legion,' Gardner said. 'They don't charge us rent. We pay the extra utility costs and for our garbage, and we pay for the floors to be cleaned every night. They have been so gracious.

'When people leave, they have a smile on their faces because they've been treated well. They make friends here.'

That was certainly true for Lola Hernandez, a retired transit driver from San Antonio, Texas, who moved to Tigard to be close to her grandchildren.

She showed up just before Thanksgiving intending to volunteer in the gift shop only to learn that it was closed along with the senior center.

'I had never worked in a commercial kitchen before, but I really enjoy it,' she said. 'I've learned to do new things, and I've made friends here.'