Senior Center slated for $500,000 in upgrades

Senior Center slated for $500,000 in upgrades

At left, Chief of Staff Linda Teel and mayoral intern Shakira Depina, a senior at Cumberland High School, react as senior social director Karen Kane hoists a poster announcing the Cumberland Senior Center’s $500,000 grant for interior and exterior renovations.

CUMBERLAND – A wave of recent improvements made to the Cumberland Senior Center building at the Monastery has swelled into a bit of a tsunami.

Seniors erupted in cheers after they were surprised during bingo last Friday with a message from Mayor Jeff Mutter’s staff: more improvements are coming.

The town received a $500,000 Community Development Block Grant from the Rhode Island Office of Housing and Community Development to further upgrade the aging facility, which is located on the Monastery property off Diamond Hill Road.

Linda Teel, the mayor’s chief of staff, told Senior Center members that the $500,000 will be available by the end of the year, with construction expected to begin in early 2020.

She said the grant will support the following improvements:

• Installing a commercial kitchen to expand meal service;
• Electrical, heating and air conditioning system upgrades;
• Adding Americans with Disabilities Act accessible doors for safe access;
• Constructing a foyer on the front of the building to block cold air from entering during winter months;
• Making the front entrance more streamlined with fewer awkward turns;
• Creating an area with seating and railings so members can wait for the bus under shelter;
• Insulating and cladding the exterior of the building so it has a “new, refreshed look”;
• Adding an outdoor patio area with easy access to the garden, new fencing and landscaping;
• And resolving drainage issues and repaving sections of the parking lot for improved safety.

Teel said any leftover funds will be used to finish updating furniture and accessories within the building.

She thanked the town’s new grant writer, Lisa Andoscia, who was hired back in March to help secure funding for Cumberland facilities such as the Senior Center and Diamond Hill Park. Teel said the $500,000 grant was the largest CDBG grant and possibly the largest grant outside of open space that Cumberland has ever received.

Andoscia noted that the town had received no CDBG funds each of the previous two years.

Teel also thanked the Cumberland Senior Center’s employees and those who use the center regularly.

“To all of you, who have always felt like this is your home even though we haven’t always made it the most beautiful home for you, know that is about to change next year – so thank you,” she said.

Others also contributed to securing the grant, including staff at the center and the town’s Planning Department.

The facility has already seen a number of positive improvements in 2019, including new flooring, bathrooms, ceilings, fresh paint, updated lighting and a larger fitness studio, paid for by a $65,000 investment approved last year by the town.

Senior Director Mike Crawley said he’s also working with the mayor on securing another bus to transport members to and from the center and offsite activities.

The center had long been a source of frustration and embarrassment for seniors.

“I work with our seniors every day and they deserve to have a beautiful space that they’re proud of,” said Crawley. “This grant, in addition to the work we’ve already started, will allow us to accomplish something I’ve been trying to achieve for five years. I am so very grateful to everyone who has had a part in making this happen.”

The winning of the grant, as well as earlier upgrades this year to maximize space, would seem to put to rest any further short-term conversations about building a new and larger center elsewhere in town.

The actual footprint of the center can’t be expanded. Mutter was the outgoing council president 15 years ago when he and the council approved a conservation easement for the Monastery prohibiting expansion of existing facilities, including the center.

Mutter, Teel and Andoscia thanked Michael Tondra of the Office of Housing and Community Development for meeting with them earlier in the year to discuss the feasibility of this project. They also gave a special thank you to the Rhode Island Congressional Delegation for its continued support and their Housing and Urban Development appropriations votes, which make projects such as this possible.

“As mayor of the town of Cumberland, I have the privilege of bearing witness to the vibrancy that our seniors bring to this community. It is high time that they have a Senior Center that reflects their immense presence and energy. I have made supporting them one of my top priorities since taking office in January,” said Mutter in a statement.

“We have made some great improvements already, but this CDBG award is the largest ever awarded to the town of Cumberland and is a monumental step in the right direction for our Senior Center. I am so proud of the work of my staff, and I can’t wait to begin Phase II,” Mutter said.