CARES Elfers Center staff and visitors said welcome back to an old friend last week.
For nearly eight years, the halls were silent at the closed building. The historic structure began as a school in 1914 for more than half a century before it evolved into a senior center for several decades. The crumbling building closed in May 2005 as unsafe until it could be stabilized and renovated.
Now the center appears to be becoming a beehive of activity once again, an elated Evie Parks, director of the facility, said Thursday.
The building, at 4136 Barker Drive, is open, although much unpacking and prep work remains before the grand reopening festivities May 10.
The word “senior” has been dropped from the name of CARES Elfers Center to reflect its broader mission.
In the new, New Port Richey Public Library Avery Branch, 15 Gulf High students made quick work of stocking hundreds of books on the shelves.
Elsewhere, computer lab volunteers marveled at their well-equipped new room, including Wi-Fi connectivity for much of the building.
Parks helped welcome members of a support group who held the first meeting Thursday in the refurbished center.
The CARES travel department will continue to set up field trips for its 1,000 members.
Classes will meet in the new annex, which now connects to the main building.
Historic photos from the building’s schoolhouse era will hang on the cafeteria walls, Parks said. With a laugh, she points to one old photo where she believes she was standing in the background as an elementary school girl.
A café will offer soups, sandwiches and salads, with catering for meetings held at the center. Coffee will be available in the mornings.
Many features reflect the historic roots of the schoolhouse building, according to Brenda Martyniak, public relations coordinator for the nonprofit Community Aging and Retirement Services.
Parks and Martyniak pointed to the wooden flooring in the stairwell as they climbed to the spacious auditorium on the second floor. The upstairs stage remains where many students performed skits, nervously avoiding the old trap door that has now been removed.
The large auditorium on the second floor can hold up to 100 people, perfect for groups such as Rotary clubs to hold special events or regular meetings, CARES officials think.
Pasco County officials found the funding for the $2 million in upgrades, as well as the restoration work, CARES Executive Director Bill Aycrigg has said.
“The excitement here is adding some additional evening hours” for people who hold down jobs during the day, Aycrigg commented. “It’s an enrichment center concept.”
Chatter reverberated throughout the halls as Parks finished the tour.
Once again, memories will be made at the Elfers center, Parks said.