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Hopkins Activity Center Proposes $1.8M Renovation

The redesign would make the space more open, efficient and attractive.

The Hopkins Activity Center is dreaming big, but those dreams come with a cost—about $1.8 million and the relocation of the Hopkins Historical Society.

Activity Center Coordinator Susan Newville and Alanna Carter, the environments for aging director at RSP Architects, presented a redesign to the City Council on Tuesday that would make the center more open, efficient and attractive.

Carter said the current design doesn’t work well for those who use the center. Visitors enter the building through a narrow corridor. They can’t easily wait for buses, and receptionists can’t easily watch seniors while they wait for buses to ensure they’re safe.

Within the building, sightlines are limited and it’s not always easy for seniors to travel between activities.

The new design would be based on a so-called “Café Plus” concept that brings together wellness, educational and fun activities with an everyday activity—eating, Newville said.

The centerpiece would be a café in what is now the main gathering space. There would be a couple dozen seats, a serving counter and an upgraded kitchen.

The renovation would also rework the entrance to offer better visibility for the reception area and inside bench seating for those waiting on buses.

Some rooms would be opened to allow “passive participants” to watch before deciding if they want to take part in an activity. Bathrooms would be updated. Windows would be added to the gym so people could look in.

But not everyone welcomes the changes. The Historical Society board was cool on a proposal to turn its facilities into two multipurpose rooms. It would move from the north of the building into a room on the southeast corner that would be smaller by about 250 square feet.

Carter said designers would make the smaller space more usable than the current locations.

“They’re losing space, but we feel it’s more-efficient, better-designed space,” she said.

Said Newville: “We won’t just take their stuff down there and place it in a room. We’re going to be very thoughtful about how we make it happen—and make it better, I feel.”

There could also be space in the Activity Center to display some of the Historical Society’s photos and artifacts in locations more easily seen by visitors.

The bigger challenge is that there isn’t any funding for the project. Carter estimated that the Activity Center’s dream package would cost about $1.8 million.

The improvements could be phased in as money becomes available. Phase I would likely be the café and kitchen renovation—which would cost about $120,000 in addition to $70,000 to $80,000 already set aside for kitchen equipment.

That wouldn’t have to be city money. Newville said Carter could use her expertise to identify grants. The Activity Center could also launch a fundraising campaign.

“I’m not afraid of working to get the money,” Newville said.

Council members were largely supportive of the concept—particularly since it followed a presentation in which analysts said the city’s population of 55- to 74-year-olds grew 23 percent between 2004 and 2010. The number of people older than 75 years old grew by 3 percent. Together, the two groups make up about a third of the city’s population.

“We are known for being forward thinking, and I think this is just one more step toward that forward thinking,” Councilwoman Molly Cummings said.

Staff will explore what kinds of funding options are available and how much support there is for the change. Mayor Gene Maxwell said he’s not convinced yet that it’s the right direction.

“It’s a big-picture view of something that could possibly happen,” he said. “It’s just a lot of dollars and a lot of moving around.”

 

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