Common future for seniors, youth drawn up

How to build a place both senior citizens and teenagers would want to spend their free hours was a puzzle until last week.

Two and a half years after a group of youth and senior citizen advocates proposed building a combined recreation and learning facility for their constituencies on South Whidbey, about two dozen of them spent the afternoon Sept. 26 pushing colored rectangles of construction paper around on a table to decide how that facility should look.

Though the exercise resembled building a jigsaw puzzle without the benefit of having a picture of the final product on a boxtop, it only took a few hours on Sept. 26 for the South Whidbey Commons to finally have a floor plan.

Planned to be built in 2005, the Commons is planned to be an intergenerational center that will provide a home for the South Whidbey Youth Center, the South Whidey Senior Center, and some services provided by the South Whidbey Childrens Center. Last week’s meeting set down on paper for the first time a design for the $2 million, 19,650-square-building, which is expected to be built on leased land near Bayview Corner.

Working in a group at the Langley Methodist Church, members of the South Whidbey Commons board of directors and representatives from local youth and senior organizations told project architects BLRB Architects what they wanted. Using the construction paper rectangles — which were cut to-scale to represent rooms and facilities to be built into the Commons — the group winnowed three optional layouts down to one.

John Carty, a Commons board member and a volunteer project supervisor for the proposed new center, said by agreeing so quickly on a design, those involved with the Commons give their architects ample direction to complete plans by mid October. The Commons group will hold an event next week to unveil the final design.

Included in the design is a 2,000-square-foot “community living room,” a kitchen to be used for cooking daily meals for seniors, an 800-square-foot art room, a small library, an 1,800-square-foot child and family center, and a multi-media room. A 4,800-square-foot gymnasium is planned to be built in a later phase of construction. The spaces are expected to provide more room than is currently available to the Senior Center and at the youth center’s current location in the basement of the Langley Methodist Church.

The design is greatly expanded over the original design concept floated in March 2001, when Commons proponents expressed interest in building structure with a large, open room with retail rental spaces — primarily for food vendors — incorporated.

Talking about the project last week, Carty said he believes in the worth of the project so much that he is doing project management work pro bono. That means $100,000 to the project.

“My heart is really in this,” he said.

Between November — when the Commons board expects to submit building plans for permitting approval with Island County — and 2005, the biggest hurdle for the Commons is funding. The project received a $750,000 federal block grant in 2002 to go toward construction and planning. Carty said the Commons organization is now left to raise the other $1.25 million by writing more grants and through local fundraising.

A few other pieces of the puzzle must be put in place as well before the Commons can become a reality, including the commitment of organizations involved to become tenants. Mike McIntyre, director of Senior Services of Island County, said his agency has yet to decide whether to move its South Whidbey operations — and bring its funding — from its current Senior Center on Highway 525 to the future commons building. That decision — for which McIntyre has high hopes — will be made by Oct. 14.

“I just think it makes so much sense,” he said of the Commons project.

Also planning her organization’s future at the Commons is Mully Mullally, director of the Childrens Center in Langley. Mullally said she will not be moving her daycare and preschool to the Commons, but does plan to operate an intermediate school after-school program out of the new building. She also hopes to conduct parenting classes and other parent-child activities at the Commons.

“We’re holding the place for children and families at the South Whidbey Commons,” she said.

Though the architects have not yet produced drawings that show how the building will look, Carty was able to give some details about its construction. He said the Commons will be a “50-year building.” It will be a wood-frame building that could be expanded with the acquisition of more land. Approximately 100 parking spots are planned to be placed behind the building and a turnaround for an Island Transit bus stop will be included in the design.

It is likely, Carty said, that the building will be erected in several phases to cut down on the initial cost.

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