New meeting place, new attitude: About 500 attend open house for new Polk senior center

Published 2:58 pm Friday, November 20, 2009

Dancing in brightly lit rooms said it all for how excited seniors are to have a new gathering place.

Polk County officials and residents celebrated the grand opening Wednesday of the new Meeting Place, which was attended by an estimated 500 people. There was a band, food and dancing, which is a dramatic change in atmosphere from the former Meeting Place location.

The new senior center, located at 75 Carmel Lane off Skyuka Road near Columbus, drew rave reviews from visitors. Some residents visiting Wednesday said they thought a senior center was a new idea for Polk County, when actually the Meeting Place, formerly located in the basement of the Jervey Palmer building in Tryon, has existed since the 1970s. The Jervey Palmer building, or former St. Lukes Hospital location, has always brought a desolate stigma to the Meeting Place because of the dilapidated building.

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Senior Center Director Pam Doty says shes been floating on air since the county decided to purchase the former Carolina Classical School and relocate the center there. Doty and all employees raved about their excitement about the new center as well as the participation on Wednesday. No one was expecting the mass of people who kept arriving steadily from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m.

Im excited were here, said Polk County Manager Ryan Whitson. Im thrilled with the turnout of over 500 people. Im glad weve gotten the seniors out of the basement of the Jervey Palmer building where the morgue used to be located.

Whitson and Doty also spoke of the immediate increase in participation at the new recreation center. Regular participation grew in just a few days from 25 to 35 residents, or 40 percent. Those numbers are expected to grow tremendously with the new center.

There has been a need for a long time, said Polk County Commissioner Tommy Melton. I am very proud to be a part of helping complete that need. This has been awesome and I am so proud of all the people who have been a part of this.

Nutrition coordinator Lula McDowell says she and her kitchen staff are so excited about the new kitchen. The county renovated the former school and added a commercial kitchen to do both congregate and home delivered meals.

I still get chills thinking about all this new equipment, McDowell said. Im so appreciative to the county manager, council on aging and commissioners for seeing the need.

Polk County decided to purchase the school in 2008 for $1.2 million. The property includes 27 acres and two buildings, one for the senior center and a rear building that is currently being renovated for an adult daycare. The county financed $1.7 million for the puchase and renovations to the senior center, paying about $178,000 per year in debt service. By the time the county finishes renovating the adult daycare center, it will have spent less than $1.9 million on the total property, which Whitson and others agree is a bargain. The Polk County Council on Aging donated $75,000 to the senior center project and the county has received another $4,000 in donations from the public.

I think the use of the facility will grow by leaps and bounds, said Polk County commissioner Warren Watson. Its going to give senior citizens a place they can be proud of. Its clean, its safe and its so much better than what I call the dungeon (at the Jervey Palmer building).

Watson and other commissioners have set a goal to get all the county offices out of the Jervey Palmer as quickly as possible. The county veterans affairs office was also moved to the new senior center location, but the department of social services and mental health remain.

Activities at the Meeting Place include line dancing ceramics, bingo, bridge, exercise classes and special trips, among others. The Meeting Place also provides information to seniors on subjects such as Medicare.

The center is open Monday through Friday and has a new phone number: 828-894-0001.