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Eight years in the making, Elfers Center to reopen

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Published:   |   Updated: April 2, 2013 at 11:46 AM
ELFERS -

Closed for nearly eight years, the CARES Elfers Center is scheduled for a grand reopening Friday, May 10, in time for the centennial of the historic schoolhouse building next year.

After several false starts, CARES officials affirmed the opening date last week, according to Brenda Martyniak, public relations coordinator for the nonprofit Community Aging and Retirement Services.

Originally, the celebration was scheduled for Nov. 15, 2012, for the renovated structure at 4136 Barker Drive. Final tweaks to the building forced two more delays in January and February.

But now, staff and volunteers have gotten the go-ahead for prepping the May 10 celebration.

“We're really chomping at the bit to get in there,” Martyniak said in a recent phone interview. “It is gorgeous.” Volunteers have huddled in cramped, temporary quarters until the expanded annex was ready.

ROTC students are scheduled to help stock library shelves, Martyniak said. The center will be a satellite branch of the New Port Richey Public Library.

“Volunteers will be hanging some historic images of the old school, which we had enlarged and made into art canvases,” Martyniak reports.

Classes and meetings at the new center could begin before the May 10 celebration, Martyniak noted.

If walls could talk, the historic schoolhouse in Elfers would have much to say. Since 1914, students had swarmed its halls for more than half a century.

Then older folks began converging on the two-story building after it was converted into a senior center in 1979.

Safety problems forced closure of the landmark building in May 2005 and the halls fell silent. Repairs begun in 2009 have fortified the crumbling structure, Bill Aycrigg recalled previously as executive director of CARES.

In December 2011, construction crews started renovations that connected the schoolhouse with a rebuilt annex. They have retained original elements of the schoolhouse, including the stairwell and upstairs stage.

Pasco County officials found the funding for the $2 million in upgrades as well as the restoration work. “Without that, this project would not have happened,” Aycrigg emphasized.

The new name of the rechristened center drops the word “Senior” to reflect the goal of broadening the appeal of programs, Aycrigg said. He hopes additional programs attract more aging baby boomers.

“The excitement here is adding some additional evening hours” for people who hold down jobs during the day, Aycrigg said. “It's an enrichment center concept.”

Expanded curriculum could include exercise classes such as tai chi and Zumba. Advanced computer courses are in the works, along with more health and wellness programs.

A café will offer soups, sandwiches and salads, with catering for meetings held at the center. Coffee will be available in the mornings.

The large auditorium on the second floor can hold up to 100 people, Aycrigg pointed out, perfect for groups such as Rotary clubs to hold special events or regular meetings.

Additional meeting rooms will feature Wi-Fi connectivity to the Internet so business people can make presentations, perhaps over lunch.

The CARES travel department will continue to set up field trips for some 1,000 members.

Aycrigg is “very pleased” about plans for a satellite branch library.

“We are going to provide books and other materials for the library,” its director, Susan Dillinger has said, adding, “We have created a location code for them on our automated system.”

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