The Opelika City Council unanimously approved a funding request at its Tuesday night meeting for the renovation of the Southside Center for the Arts in order to add a senior center to the building.
The $500,000 in total funding would come from the Alabama Department of Economic Affairs through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Community Development Block Grant funding for the purpose of preventing, preparing and responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Of that funding, $400,000 would go towards the renovations to the Southside Center, and the renovation would convert unused rooms into a new senior center and provide a larger space for Opelika seniors to congregate to lessen the chances of the most vulnerable of the city’s residents from contracting the virus.
“It’s important to take care of our seniors because our seniors have taken care of us,” Ward 2 Councilmember Erica Baker Norris said.
The renovations in the 2,300 square-foot-facility would provide two large classrooms, an office, three ADA-compliant bathrooms and a warming kitchen for seniors to receive social interaction, activities and daily meals, as opposed to the current senior center, which consists of a single activity room of only 600 square feet, according to the city’s grant application.
Mayor Gary Fuller said one end of the building would be made into a senior center while the rest of the building would still function as an art center.
“Part of that building is not being used by the folks in there, so it’s only one end of the building,” Fuller said. “There’s about three or four rooms, one of which is very large, and that’s where we want to make an honest-to-goodness senior center. We have been desperately needing a place for our seniors.”
The new senior center, once renovations are complete, would be able to hold up to 60 seniors at one time, compared to the existing center’s limit of only 20-25. While the renovation of the Southside Center and creation of the new senior center still have a long way to go until complete, Fuller said he hoped it would be able to open this fall.
Other grant funding requests approved by the council include $54,000 to be granted to Opelika Main Street and $46,000 towards new tables and chairs around the city.
The funding planned to be allocated to Opelika Main Street would support local businesses by providing COVID-19 prevention supplies like masks, gloves and plexiglass barriers as well as the creation of hand sanitizer stations throughout downtown and funding for the hosting of downtown events.
The expansion of the city’s public seating is an effort to promote social distancing in Opelika’s downtown in order to make areas more accessible to its residents for the sake of their mental health, according to the application. Funding would cover the costs of new benches, planters and trash receptacles throughout the city’s downtown in order to encourage social distancing and promote local businesses.