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Darien Seniors Like What They See in Center Plans

DARIEN, Conn. – The Darien Senior Center is stuck in time — in a former 1950s elementary school building ironically too old for the elderly people who use it most.

Some town officials, including Republican First Selectman Dave Campbell, are pushing plans for a new senior center estimated to cost $4.5 million to $6 million in a town that boasts the state's highest family median income and lowest taxes.

Architect Thomas Arcari of Quisenberry Arcari Architects in Farmington and Building Committee Chairman Norm Guimond presented design plans and slides Wednesday at the center, showing seniors what a proposed new center would look like.

Many of the nearly 100 seniors who turned out loved the plan, saying the current building is falling apart, cramped and has outdated heating and air conditioning systems.

"This building is a disaster and everyone knows it," said 89-year-old Jim Baker, a retired architect who stood with a cane talking to Arcari afterward. "These plans look terrific and include everything a modern senior center should have."

The new center would include amenities such as a café, exercise rooms, wider hallways, pool tables, larger community rooms, increased circulation space, gallery space, health screening space, music practice rooms, changing space and lockers.

"We're trying to create a new center for Darien seniors that will not only meet their needs now, but for the next 30 years," Arcari said.

That will be vital in the years ahead, he said, because the number of people age 65 and older in the United States will double to nearly 80 million by 2050, and those 85 and older will reach 7 million by 2020 and 31 million by 2050, projections show.

"I just hope I live long enough to use the new center," said an elderly woman.

Although Campbell and two other Republican selectmen support the plan, two Democratic selectmen aren't convinced. "This is a lovely design, but I think we need more information to show it's something we can afford," said Frank H. Adelman, a sixth district Democratic member of the Representative Town Meeting.

Campbell said, "This is an information session for seniors to see the plans. I would prefer to keep politics and any talk of its cost out of today's discussion." He said those issues can be debated at the Board of Selectmen meeting Monday at 7:45 p.m. in Town Hall.

The controversial project, part of the so-called Shuffle Plan, would mean relocating the center to a renovated 24,000-square-foot facility in the current Board of Education offices in Town Hall, about 6,000 square feet larger than the current center.

The school board offices would move from Town Hall to the old town library at 35 Leroy Ave. The current center would be demolished to make way for affordable housing.

Do you support the proposed Shuffle Plan and the plans for a new senior center? Let us know in a comment below.

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