CONWAY — Senior citizens in Conway should have a new place to dine, dance and socialize in July.
The Faulkner County Council on Aging bought the former Agora Special Events and Conference Center on Siebenmorgen Road in Conway for $1.95 million. The building is being remodeled to be the Conway Senior Wellness and Activity Center, which is now in a former church on Donaghey Avenue.
“We hope to be in the center by the end of July — we’re waiting on remodeling,” said Lori Melton, co-chairwoman of the capital campaign. “Everything is scheduled to be finished at the end of the June with the remodel, with move-in and cleanup scheduled for July.”
Melton and Linda Linn of Conway are co-chairwomen of the Make It Happen capital campaign to raise $2 million to pay for the building.
“They’re putting a new facade on to try to make it look different and a little more inviting,” Melton said. A brick, rock and stucco facade is being used on the building, and the kitchen is being remodeled.
“They’re tripling the size of the kitchen. They serve 130,000 meals out of [the senior center] a year. That was the big expenditure on the remodel,” she said. “The kitchen remodeling is going well. I was actually out there yesterday. The kitchen equipment has been ordered.”
A fence has to be added around the building, too, Melton said, to secure the fleet of 16 vans.
“They drive 100,000 miles a year,” she said, taking seniors to doctor’s appointments and center functions.
Despite being turned down for one grant, the Faulkner County Senior Citizens Program is “very close” to reaching its fundraising goal, Melton said.
“I would say we feel comfortable that we are going to reach our goal by the time we have our grand opening,” she said. “We plan on having grand-opening ceremonies in early September.”
Debra Robinson, executive director of the Faulkner County Senior Citizens Program, said she has ordered fitness equipment for the facility.
“They tell me four to six weeks, but you know, it could be eight weeks,” she said. “Something could happen.”
Robinson said that in addition to the major renovations, “there are still some safety things we have to meet — bars on the doors and exit lights — and we’ve got to do some painting.”
Although the expressed goal was $2 million, “we were shooting for $2.5 million,” Melton said, but that included the sale of the current facility. The additional funds will pay for remodeling.
The program, which applied for a grant from the J.E. and L.E. Mabee Foundation, didn’t get the grant.
“We were shocked,” Melton said.
“Honestly,” Robinson said, “after we all talked about it, I think [the foundation is] more into new construction. They didn’t say, but that’s sort of what we were thinking.
“We’ve got a few more grants out there we’re waiting to hear from.”
The senior center on Donaghey Avenue, bought in 1980, is too small for the growing program, Robinson said.
The Donaghey center has 9,446 square feet, and Agora has 18,750 square feet.
James McAlister, 68, said he is most looking forward to more space in the new
building “so we don’t have multiple activities going on simultaneously and have to shut down one before starting the other.”
Space for classes is needed, too, McAlister said. He said his sister wanted to teach a yoga class, but it needed a quieter environment without people walking through the class.
“There was an interest, but I guess the environment wasn’t friendly toward that,” he said.
As he talked, seniors playing beanbag baseball were cheering as two men shot pool just a few feet away.
One of those men was Jim Norwine, 81.
“I think everybody is looking forward to it,” Norwine said. “We’re going to have an exercise room … and two pool tables,” he said. “I’m not worth a dime, but I like to play.”
His pool partner, Jarrel Robertson, 75, said he isn’t looking forward to the center’s new location.
“I live just right across the street,” he said, referring to the current location. “I’ll have to drive across town.”
However, Robertson said he hopes he will attend the center when it opens on Siebenmorgen Road.
Peggy Moix, 76, said the location doesn’t bother her because one of the senior center’s buses will pick her up.
“I’m looking forward to [the new location] because there’s going to be a recreation room for exercise and all that. I love to work out, walk. I believe they said there might be a walking track,” Moix said.
The current senior center has been for sale for several months, and “we actually have a very strong bite” on the building, Melton said Friday.
“We’ve had lots of nibbles the last few months, but no big bites,” Robinson said. “We’re hoping for this one to come through.”
Melton said Gov. Mike Beebe has been invited to the center’s grand opening, “and we’re waiting on a date to see when he can come. We’re going to recognize donors. We also will be naming the new facility after one of our large donors, yet to be disclosed.”
Melton said 2014 is the program’s 40th anniversary, so in addition to the public open house and ribbon cutting, the seniors will celebrate.
“We’re doing a dance that’s going to be a homecoming theme from 1974 and have old cars and have them dress up and have a king and queen,” she said.
Melton and Robinson both said they believe the program will grow at the new location.
“We think we’ll actually be attractive to a different demographic, and maybe it’ll wake some people up and say, ‘Hey, this isn’t for decrepit people.’ You don’t have to be on a walker or poor,” Melton said.
Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or firstname.lastname@example.org.