Clearwater Nets State Grant, Finds Creative Solution for Senior Center
CLEARWATER. – The City of Clearwater has been awarded a $727,000 state grant to renovate, equip and furnish a city Aging Well Center located at the Long Center, 1501 N. Belcher Road.
The city plans to convert a portion of the existing center that had previously been leased to the Upper Pinellas Association of Retarded Citizens into a facility that will serve the needs of its mature population. The new center will promote health and wellness, education, recreation, socialization and provide access to resources for residents age 55 and older. The 2008 State Legislature authorized the grant, one of 19 totaling $10-million to be used for senior centers throughout Florida.
“Senior centers play an essential role in the overall health and community involvement of Florida’s older adults, who have given so much to our state and nation over the years,” said Governor Charlie Crist. “These funds will help the centers provide even more opportunities for seniors to stay connected to their communities.”
Grant recipients must provide 25 percent matching funds for their projects. Clearwater’s Aging Well Center will cost $970,000 with remaining funds coming from existing Capital Improvement Project allocations.
“Our staff deserves many thanks for the tremendous effort they have put into procuring this grant,” said Mayor Frank Hibbard. “In a city our size, we have an obligation to serve our mature citizens with a place of their own, and in these tight budget times, I think we’ve come up with an innovative solution to answer this important segment of our population as well as provide some much needed support for the UPARC programs. I’m excited to see one of my goals as mayor come to fruition.”
UPARC has leased the Long Center’s rear building and cafeteria for the past 18 years to operate their nationally known program. The city and UPARC struck a deal in August in which UPARC will return 8,000 square feet of floor space to the city, including the cafeteria and two classrooms. The city will now use that space for the Aging Well Center. In exchange, the city will provide maintenance and/or replacement for the aging roof and air conditioning system in that part of the building.
Putting the Aging Well Center in an existing building is economically more efficient for the city, and the state grant is able to fund most of the required build-out. Prior to the deal, the city had looked into building a freestanding senior center, paying for it with more than $3 million of Penny for Pinellas III dollars. Those funds would not be available until 2010. By receiving this grant, the Aging Well Center can be completed sooner and a portion of the earmarked Penny III funds can pay for the phased UPARC renovations.
The need for a multi-service Aging Well Center in Clearwater is not new. As early as 2000, demographic data showed that 21.5 percent of Clearwater’s population was older than 65, the highest percentage of any city with more than 100,000 residents in the United States. In addition, citizen surveys and other data indicate a high level of support for older citizen services, including a senior center.
Since 2002, the city has been working through a statewide initiative called Communities for a Lifetime. The initiative, a partnership with the State Department of Elder Affairs, assists local jurisdictions in planning and implementing improvements to benefit their residents, youthful or mature.
“This grant will allow us to move forward with Clearwater’s Aging Well Center,” said Office on Aging Manager Kerry Marsalek. “It is the culmination of our Communities for a Lifetime effort.”
Long Center renovations for the Aging Well Center are expected to begin July 2009 and the city hopes to have it complete by early 2010.
For more information, call the city’s Office on Aging at (727) 562-4830.
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