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Work Starts on Georgia’s Senior Life Enrichment Center

After 20 years of planning, a challenging project gets its start.

Mon April 15, 2013 - Southeast Edition
Cindy Riley

Two decades after it was first envisioned, construction has finally begun on an $8 million Senior Life Enrichment Center in Albany, Ga. The Southwest Georgia (SOWEGA) Council on Aging’s new facility includes an educational area, activity rooms and more than 60 office spaces and is being built at the site of the former Byne Memorial Baptist Church property in Dougherty County.

“I am most looking forward to seeing people come to the Center, their reaction and excitement about the building and the opportunity to participate in all of the activities,” said Kay Hind, the Council’s executive director. “Even though this will be the completion of a dream, it’s also the beginning of a new era in senior programming. I’m excited about having the facilities to provide for the expansion of existing services, as well as new and innovative programs.”

In 2008, Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital donated $1.2 million worth of property for the organization to use as the site of the planned Center, which involves an adaptive reuse of a three-story school renovated to accommodate the project’s needs, along with an addition being constructed on the front of the building.

“Site and building demolition is complete for the most part, and site underground storm, sanitary and water systems are complete,” stated Jake Reese, project manager of general contractor LRA Constructors. “The existing building interior wall framing and mechanical, electrical and plumbing rough-in is roughly 80 percent complete overall. Drywall is scheduled to start at the first floor mid-April. The new addition foundation, structural steel, exterior wall framing and trusses are complete, and masonry and storefront installation is on-going at the existing building.”

Construction began in September 2012 and is scheduled to be complete by November 2013.

“The work at the existing building is the most challenging due to the conditions,” said Reese. “For instance, the slab to slab height from the first to second floors at the existing building is 12 feet 0 inches [10 feet 0 inches plus/minus below joists], which makes installation of above-ceiling mechanical, plumbing and electrical difficult to meet the new ceiling heights. Also, much attention has to be paid to the details when performing a renovation to this extent, to be sure that quality standards are met. Basically, the entire existing building is being completely renovated. Structural modifications have been made throughout the entire existing building to accommodate the new design.”

Man lifts are being used by all trades, along with boom trucks at the exterior for steel erection. Lulls and variable reach lifts of various sizes are on hand for exterior veneer work at the new addition and the existing building, as well as backhoes at the exterior for excavation.

“The north end of the new building has an expansion that intrudes on all three levels and consists of radius structural steel with masonry columns/infill and storefront,” said Reese. “The phasing of demolition of the existing building with this new construction has been challenging, to say the least. The weather also has played a role, with underground work at the perimeter of the existing building. Also, there are some relatively steep grades along the existing building that have been affected.”

Currently, there are roughly 40 men on site each day. On average for the duration of the project, about 30 men will be working 8 to 10 hours shifts every day. The project was initially out of budget, so the design and construction team worked together through a value engineering process to cut roughly $800,000 from the price without greatly affecting the design scope and intent. The process included much collaboration with major trade subcontractors.

Incorporated as the Albany-Dougherty Council on Aging, the SOWEGA Council on Aging was created to meet the physical, mental and spiritual needs of older people in the region. The organization was deemed an Area Agency on Aging by the State Office on Aging, and has expanded to meet the needs of the ever-increasing number of older people in the area.

“The SOWEGA Council on Aging was established in 1966 and has always been located in old store fronts, barracks, public housing facilities and old U.S.O. Buildings,” said SOWEGA’s Development Director, Izzie Sadler. “There’s not adequate space to provide important programs and services for the growing needs of the senior community. Current offices are in three small buildings, with the Senior Center located in two separate facilities approximately one mile apart. The physical division and distance between all of the facilities complicates operations, causes confusion for individuals seeking information and assistance, limits the agency’s capacity to deliver programs and services and requires the agency to rent or borrow space for programs.”

Remaining on the site is the family life center, which includes a gymnasium, kitchen and Sunday school. The addition’s exterior is surrounded by a covered porch supported by traditional craftsman-style tapered columns. The original family life center’s exterior has been modified by adding a large number of windows bringing daylight into every space occupied by seniors. The existing brick will be stained to match the new brick of the addition, resulting in a complete makeover.

Lead architect George Flynn of Flynn Finderup Architects of Marietta has been working with Hind for close to ten years in developing the project. He said after so much time invested, watching the project take shape is rewarding.

“We wanted to create a facility that would be accessible to the whole community,” Flynn said. “I think currently most people view this as a low-income service, but SOWEGA provides so much more. We chose to design something that would be inviting to a wide range of economic groups, racial groups and those with different needs. There will be space to hold banquets, wedding receptions, club gatherings, holiday parties and even some conferences.”

“SOWEGA Council on Aging looked at a wide range of factors in selecting their lead design architect and the architect of record,” added Kent McClure of Yielding Wakeford & McGee Architects. “The primary one was a knowledge base in the understanding that successful seniors centers have a simple identity which allows senior citizens to have comfort level where they have experienced these types of spaces before, and it’s not foreign to them.

“The neighborhood where this center is located is made up of older homes constructed in the 1920s and 1930s reminiscent of the American Bungalow Design Style, said McClure. “The new senior center is designed to reflect this. Flynn Finderup Architects has successfully completed six senior centers previously and has had a great appreciation for the role senior adults have played in all of our lives.”

Architect Mack Wakeford pointed out “The greatest challenge for this project was initially to demolish six buildings located on the site. The old former church education center had to be modified extensively for new SOWEGA agency uses. The building also had to be cleaned of vagrant uses from the past ten years. The budget always seems to be our worst friend, and this project was no different. Budget modifications were necessary to bring the contractors bid in line with the available funds for construction.”

The project consists of renovation and modifications to the existing three-story former Byne gymnasium constructed in 1976, of approximately 34,242 sq. ft. The new two-story addition adjoins the south side of the building consisting of approximately 7,367 sq. ft., with a total gross project area of 43,132 sq. ft. New wraparound porches are located on all three sides of the new addition. Sitework consists of new hardscape walkways, trees and site improvements within the city right-of-way.

Site utilities include new water, sewage, storm drainage, gas, electrical, fiber optics, cable TV and fire protection lines. A new drive-thru portico lets visitors know they have arrived at the new Senior Center, anchoring the front of the new addition. New drives, visitor and staff parking lots, sidewalks, grassing, landscaping and site lighting also are included.

According to Sadler, “ The Senior Life Enrichment Center will primarily serve all individuals age 60-plus in the local area; however, the facility also will be the hub of all offices, programs and services for a 14-county service area in southwest Georgia. The large state-of-the-art facility will allow the agency to offer a wide variety of programs designed to elevate older adults and encourage healthy lifestyles.”

Sadler credits her boss with turning a long held dream into a reality, based on years of experience and tireless devotion to seniors.

“Kay Hind has been the director of this agency for 45 years. She started with an $8,000 budget and a desire to help seniors. Now, at age 82, she maintains the helm of the organization and its $5.9 million dollar annual budget,” Sadler stated.

The Center will be the flagship facility for SOWEGA Council on Aging. The Albany area has the largest senior population of any of the service areas served by the Council.

“There has been a very positive reaction from the entire community,” added Sadler. “Seniors are excited to have a safe, inviting place to enjoy a good meal, activities and other recreational opportunities, and younger groups are excited to have another local option for conference and event space, as well as the opportunity to volunteer with programs held at the facility.

“The Putney Memorial Hospital donation was extremely significant to the project. The location of the property is ideal in that it is within walking distance to the local hospital, while it remains only a few blocks away from our current locations, which will ensure that the seniors currently attending our senior centers are not displaced too far from where they normally go. The agency would not have financially been capable of developing a facility of this magnitude without the donation of the property.”

SOWEGA continues to raise money to cover the cost of the project, which is being funded in part by board contributions, donations, HUD grants, internal dollars and a line of credit. The current plan is to have the building open to the public by January 2014.

Said Hind, “It’s a day I thought would never come to pass. To have seen the programs grow and the people that have benefitted is gratifying. The program started in a small apartment in Golden Age housing and progressed to many other locations, each an improvement over the former. I want people to know that we value our older citizens in southwest Georgia, and we recognize and appreciate all they have contributed to our society. This is one way to make a difference in their lives.This will finally be a lasting memorial to all seniors in southwest Georgia.”

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