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Thursday, April 26 News

Finance board OKs $3.9M for senior center expansion

WESTPORT—After receiving full support from the finance board, the Westport Center for Senior Activities is one step closer to a $3.9 million expansion.

One of the most heavily-used facilities in town, the 12,000-square-foot center, built in 2004, will be able to expand half of its footprint to accommodate the growing senior population. The senior center — currently at capacity — has just under 3,000 active members and serves around 340 seniors a day. According to the Nielsen Company, 29 percent of Westporters in 2010 were above 55 years old; in 2015 that number rose to 33 percent and by 2020 it is expected to hit 37 percent.

Improvements will include more classroom space, multi-purpose rooms, a game room, an improved fitness facility, locker rooms and showers, a café. There will also be changes outside the building itself, namely 27 additional senior-friendly parking spaces — ones in close proximity to the center — and the possibility of parking assistance, such as valet parking.

Members of the finance board were effusive in their support for the senior center expansion, many of them highlighting how important seniors are to the community.

“It’s good business to do everything we can to keep seniors in Westport,” Board of Finance Vice Chair Michael Rea said.

“You’ve given over all your life to this community and you deserve this,” he told the seniors who turned out for the May 17 meeting, subsequently asking if the appropriation was enough.

Sue Pfister, director of the senior center, said she believes the expansion will meet the seniors’ needs for years to come, noting that the center’s operating hours could be extended.

Although the finance board plans to vote on the appropriation at their next meeting, Chairman Brian Stern said the request will be approved.

“It’s a community of great substance and we want to keep it that way,” Stern said.

“I think most of us or all of us are going to be in favor of this expenditure,” added Finance Board Member Lee Caney. “You’re a great resource to the town.”

Pfister was encouraged at the conclusion of the meeting.

“I’m relieved, but not surprised, by the Board of Finance’s support as everybody in the community realizes the importance of keeping seniors in our community and offering them the ability to continue to learn, socialize and take on new challenges in a safe, warm and welcoming environment,” she said.

The project is slated to be completed by the fall of 2018. Planning started back in 2015 when First Selectman Jim Marpe appointed a committee tasked with pinpointing seniors’ needs at the center. After careful consideration and years of input and work, the finance board’s response was much appreciated.

“I think it went very well. There were good questions, but the overall feeling is that they’re behind us,” said Martha Aasen, a senior who was been integral in the planning process. “I think they’re impressed by the very careful work we’ve put into the planning.”

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@chrismmarquette; cmarquette@bcnnew.com