With Aging Population, Lymes’ Senior Seeks Study of Needs, Possible Expansion

Lymes' Senior Center (CT Examiner/McDermott)


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OLD LYME — A special building committee for the Lymes’ Senior Center plans to ask the Board of Finance on February 25 to fund a feasibility study of the long-term needs of the area’s seniors and a possible expansion of their facilities.

“There’s a lot of us who are 55 and older,” said Jeri Baker, chair of the Lymes’ Senior Center Building Committee. “There’s just a lot of us. And we’re looking for continued opportunities to learn and be active and grow with other people and be social and to be kind for our much older members at the center, who are wonderful, but more vulnerable.”

The feasibility study would review the building’s facilities and its programs and services — summarizing services already offered by the center and soliciting ideas from members, staff, and other town residents on how the center can better meet the area’s needs in the future.

“This is not a Band-Aid approach,” said Baker, who also pointed out the even larger population turning 55 within a decade. “This is to look at the future 15 and 20 years out.”

In late January, the building committee presented to the finance boards of Lyme and Old Lyme seeking $50,000 to fund the study.Since then, Baker said that her group has sought ways to reduce that cost, which they’ll present to the Old Lyme finance board on Tuesday.

“We’re not going to go forward with anything without the consensus of the two communities,” Baker said, continuing that it was “the fair thing to do” and that the senior center wanted to be “good fiscal partners.” 

The cost of a study would be subject to a bidding process.

Baker, who is also chair of the senior center Board of Directors, said the most apparent need at the center is for more space to accommodate art classes and exercise dance classes. Baker said that there is a waitlist for the art.

“When you have 20 yoga mats on a floor that is only 60 square feet, it gets a little close,” she said.

What motivates the request

The Lymes’ Senior Center’s service population has been growing rapidly in the last few years, according to Senior Center Director Stephanie Gould. The center currently has over 1500 members. That number has grown from about 350 when Gould was hired in 2013.

In 2018, the center lowered the minimum age for membership from 65 to 55. Baker said this change mirrored national and regional trends at seniors’ groups. Old Saybrook’s senior center, the Estuary Council of Seniors, Inc, has a minimum age of 50 for members, as does AARP.

In recent years, senior centers have also been regionalizing services, Gould said. The Lymes’ center frequently partners with Waterford and East Lyme’s centers in organizing bus trips, in part to ensure that there are enough participants signing up to fill a bus. 

Several senior centers around southeastern Connecticut share a website, and their professional staff meet on a regular basis during the year, said Gould. 

People from outside of Lyme and Old Lyme can also join the center. About 11 percent of members are currently from out of town, Gould said. The annual membership fee for residents of Lyme and Old Lyme is $5, and the fee for out-of-town residents is $10.

“A lot of our members go to other centers to do things that they don’t do at our center and vice versa,” Baker said at an earlier finance board meeting.

What does a feasibility study cover?

Thomas Arcari, architect and owner of QA+M Architecture of Farmington, presented to the building committee in January. Arcari’s firm has worked on about 30 senior center renovations around the state and region, he said in a Tuesday phone interview.

Acari said that among top priorities in senior center renovations today are support for fitness and wellness programs as well as common areas and storage.

“Fitness and wellness is the biggest growing program in senior centers across the state of Connecticut now,” Arcari said. “As we live longer lives, we not only want to make an effort to prolong our lifespans but also to improve the quality of our lifespans, and fitness, strength, and wellness are at the core of that.”

Gould said similarly, “As we age, we want to make sure that we’re doing more. Because after you retire, if you just stop, that’s when you really age. Otherwise you stay young.”

The Lymes center currently offers about two exercise or dance classes per day during their regular hours. Most seniors pay an additional fee to attend, said Gould.

Recent senior center expansions in Branford and Groton have included “state-of-the-art” fitness facilities, Arcari said, although he acknowledged that large gyms can be a large financial ask for smaller towns’ senior centers.

Arcari also said that many senior centers will rent out their space for parties, bridal showers, and similar events during off-hours as a source of revenue.

Plainville’s senior center has renovations over the years to include a fitness center, added entrances, and a central socialization and cafe area. Having a meeting space.

“At the heart of most of our centers we have a cafe and circulation area because the real goal of senior center design is to re-engage our seniors in the community,” he said. “It’s really a place where senior citizens can go spend a good portion of their day, talk to other people, potentially of different generations, but that can be done in ways as simple as someone having a place to sit, read the paper, and watch everyone come and go as opposed to sitting in their living room and watching TV.”

Baker and others from the senior center group are scheduled to present their request to the Board of Finance on Tuesday, February 25. The meeting begins at 7 p.m. in Town Hall.

This story has been corrected to reflect that 11 percent of members are from out of town.