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story.lead_photo.caption Nicole Heaps, director of senior services for Maumelle, holds a small golden shovel that she used to turn the dirt during the groundbreaking Friday for the $4.6 million Maumelle Senior Wellness Center. She said the shovel will be placed in a shadow box and displayed in the new center, which is scheduled to be completed in December. - Photo by William Harvey

Nicole Heaps, director of senior services, said despite having a great view of Lake Valencia, the Maumelle Senior Wellness Center in the basement of City Hall has some drawbacks.

A big step was taken Friday to fix that as ground was broken on a $4.6 million center, which will more than double the program’s current space.

“We’ve got a growing number of seniors,” Heaps said. The Maumelle Senior Wellness Center serves people ages 50 and older, and last year’s annual membership was 1,107, Heaps said. She said most members live in Maumelle, but members hail from Little Rock and North Little Rock, too.

The center, being built on 3 acres on Club Manor Cove, will include 16,600 square feet, compared with 7,000 at its current location on Edgewood Drive. The center is scheduled to be completed in December.

Heaps said it was a grassroots effort to get the senior center planned, and input was sought from seniors, staff and the community.

“We did like a wishes, wants and needs — also, [we asked] ‘What do you like in your current facility?’” Heaps said. “We had a list of what we felt like was realistic and what we felt like we could do.”

Designed by David Porter, the owner of Polk Stanley Wilcox Architects of Little Rock, the building is brick and has “lots of glass, lots of natural light,” Heaps said. “It’s a beautiful building.”

The new center will have a level parking lot and entrance, Heaps said.

“It will be easy to navigate from the minute you pull into the parking lot,” she said. “We spent a lot of time designing a facility that would be really easy to navigate, without looking like a geriatric center.”

She said the building will feature open hallways, areas for socialization and a dedicated cafe space so a variety of foods can be served at different times of day, instead of one main meal, Heaps said.

“[The center has] a double-sided fireplace. We kept saying Panera-esqe,” Heaps said with a laugh.

She said the way the building is situated at the front of the property, it will be near Lake Willastein. Although the lake will not be visible, there will be paths to Lake Willastein that connect to the existing path system.

“We’ll have a nice big grassy area behind us. We’ll actually have our own garden space,” Heaps said. The produce will be used by the wellness center cafeteria first, and the extra will be offered to members.

The new center will have several conversation areas, Heaps said, two classrooms that are larger than the current facility has and a conference room for smaller support groups. The center will also include a game room with televisions, and Heaps said she plans to buy a pool table. The facility will have computer kiosks in the large hallways, she said, as well as tablets and laptop computers available for checkout for use in the building. A cardio room will have 10 exercise stations, as well as an open space for group exercise, Heaps said.

That sounds good to Carol DeKay, 71, a member of the Maumelle Senior Wellness Center and a participant in the Morning Movers exercise class.

“They’ve outgrown this place,” DeKay said. She had just finished the Morning Movers class, which is “quite intense,” she said. “I love the women who are there, the instructors there. It just gets you going.”

DeKay, who lives just outside Maumelle in North Little Rock, said she discovered the center about 1 1/2 years ago.

She said she started with the exercise class and has since joined a knitting group and a How to Eat Healthy class.

“It’s a fabulous place,” DeKay said. “There’s a whole bunch of stuff to do at the Senior Wellness Center. There’s something there for everybody.”

She got to put her 2-cents’ worth in when the new center was being designed.

“I feel that we need more space to do this morning exercise was one of the main things, and a place people can come and visit where we’re not exercising right next to them, because it’s hard to hear,” she said. “I think everybody needs to have that socializing with other people. … It takes away from them thinking about their aches and pains, not to mention the exercise you can get.”

DeKay said she had high blood pressure, high cholesterol and was prediabetic when she started exercising at the wellness center. The next time she went to the doctor, DeKay said, her cholesterol had “taken a nose dive,” her blood pressure was better, and she was no longer prediabetic. “Not to mention I’ve lost weight,” she said.

Heaps said she expects to increase the number of exercise classes offered, thanks to a dedicated room for them in the new building.

“We’d love to be open longer hours,” Heaps said. The current location is “really dark at night,” but she said the new facility will have a lighted parking lot. That will create opportunities for more classes, she said, particularly for members who work.

“We’re excited about the possibilities,” she said. “We have room to grow.”

The project is being financed with a bond issue that includes two other issues approved by voters in 2015. The bond issue will fund the completion of the softball fields, as well as a renovation of Maumelle City Hall, which will start when the senior center moves out.

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or

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