Under One Roof

By Eileen A. Hotho

Battling the hazards of slippery ice and snow, town of Hamburg, N.Y., workers last February unpacked moving trucks filled with desks, office supplies, and furniture. These items had been loaded onto the trucks across town at separate locations for Senior Services and its Adult Day Service, completing a journey that began nearly 2 years before. The two offices are part of the Department of Youth, Recreation and Senior Services, and this move was the final leg of a strategic consolidation of the huge department under one roof, although the town had combined the three entities administratively in 2010.

The relocation of four separate offices to the newly christened Senior Community Center began in December 2013 with the transfer of the Recreation Office and Youth Bureau staff to the former Frontier Community Learning Center. The move was possible for the first arrivals at that time because they were able to utilize the former school administrative office space, which required little more than fresh paint and new carpet.   

The $2.3-million renovation project was spurred by the town’s search for larger facilities for Senior Services, primarily for its adult day-care center, which had outgrown its building—a former train station. The town took over the 40,600-square-foot facility on July 1, 2013, and began the transformation from school building to a combination community and senior center with recreation and activities for all ages. The extensive improvements were initially projected to take about 6 months to complete. 

Searching For Something Bigger
The project came about after Town Supervisor Steven J. Walters announced during a board meeting in early 2013 that the town was launching a search for larger quarters. He was caught off guard by how swiftly that search would bear fruit. At the time of Walters’ announcement, the Frontier Central School District learned that its major tenant, Erie I Board of Cooperative Educational Services, was to vacate in June a building that was constructed in 2002.  

When school-district officials learned of the impending vacancy, they saw an obvious solution through an already strong partnership (many town recreation programs have been run in Frontier school facilities for years). The town needed more space and the school district had a building to fill. Problem solved. “The district understood we could not allow this wonderful facility to go dark and were very aggressive in finding a tenant,” said Superintendent James Bodziak at a joint press conference on May 1, 2013.

“At the time, we knew we were beginning to outgrow our current Senior Center, but felt an expansion was a project that was at least three to five years out,” Walters says. “However, when this opportunity came along, it was too good to pass up.”  The town signed a 10-year lease with the school district, with an option to renew for 9 years for the cost of the bond payment due each year, which is between $50,000 and $55,000. In 17 years, when the bond payment is complete, the town may purchase the building for $1. The town plans on further expanding the building by constructing a therapeutic pool within a few years to replace an aging facility at another location.

Creating A Homey Atmosphere
Walters says one of the biggest challenges the town faced in converting a school building to a senior center was the initial institutional feel to it. “With seniors, you need to have something that has a homey, welcoming feel to it. We knew that with the right renovations, we could change the atmosphere,” he says. A 1950s-style diner (Walters’ concept), lush indoor plants, a floor-to-ceiling waterfall with koi pond, and cozy furniture groupings in the senior reception areas also helped achieve the cozy ambience he sought, as did the gazebo and landscaping on the peaceful grounds.

“There are a lot of things you don’t know about a building until you open it up. We encountered a lot of hiccups along the way, but ultimately, the end product was everything we hoped for, and the response from the community is that everyone is thrilled to have such a facility as this,” Walters says. He recommends that anyone embarking on a project of this magnitude seek input from the population to be served. In Hamburg’s case, the highest priority was providing a location to serve the needs of active seniors, while also providing a beautiful and secure home for the Adult Day Service (whose physical or mental limitations make attendance in other senior programs difficult). “We engaged our senior population and asked them what they needed and what would work for them. Along the way, we scrapped some things we had planned after getting the senior input,” Walters says. One example was the swapping of locations planned for the Senior Fitness Center and the Game Room because seniors who reviewed the plans preferred that the fitness center be accessed directly from an exterior door. The original location had entry through an outside door and down a main hallway.

“You also have to engage a good architect and do your homework,” Walters says. An obstacle the construction crew encountered was the school district’s use of stainless steel on wall edges. “Stainless steel works great for square edges, but not for rounded edges, which we found throughout the building. We had to specially fabricate to resolve the problem. There were areas that were not 100-percent level, and that created gaps between the flooring and molding. We found different solutions for the minor problems we encountered,” Walters says.

Sharing Space
The completion of the project brought together the Senior Services Office and Adult Day Service, along with the Recreation Office and Youth Bureau. Each branch of the department has access to the library, dining room, conference rooms, a large gymnasium whose floor was newly refinished, and a number of activity rooms and classrooms. Town, school, and community activities take place on a nearly daily basis.

“With this new building we are able to enhance our programs because we have more space with rooms designed to accommodate a wide variety of new activities. The building will also be utilized after hours and weekends for programming to meet the needs of the entire community, including our neighbors and visitors,” says Martin C. Denecke, director of the Town of Hamburg Department of Youth, Recreation and Senior Services. 

Eileen A. Hotho is the Communications Coordinator for the town of Hamburg Department of Youth, Recreation and Senior Services in New York. Reach her at ehotho@townofhamburgny.com.