Aging has its privileges
In January 2004, Irving, Texas, opened the doors to the Heritage Senior Center, a $7 million, 40,000-square-foot facility designed for residents age 50 and over. The center has drawn in thousands of seniors who are bringing a youthful feel to a revitalized historic area.
With Irving’s senior population on the rise, the city’s 17-year-old, 21,000-square-foot senior center was outdated and overcrowded. When the city’s 1999 park bond funds were being distributed, the center’s staff requested $1.8 million to renovate the building. The bond committee rejected the proposal, but instead allocated $7 million to build a new facility. “The senior population definitely had an influence on the committee,” says Casey Tate, park planning superintendent for Irving.
Rather than demolishing the old building, the city decided to use it for a youth center and therapeutic recreation facility, and began searching for a new location for a senior center near public transportation and much of the senior population. It chose a six-acre site in the “Heritage District,” the original 80 acres upon which the city was founded.
The location once had been vibrant, but when residents began moving to Irving’s north side in the 1980s, it was reduced to a collection of abandoned discount stores. Because of groundwater contamination caused by dry cleaning chemicals released by a former tenant in the 1970s, finding a buyer for the site was difficult. “The site was really turning into a brownfield,” Tate says. “No one wanted to buy it, and it led to a downturn in the neighborhood.”
Irving, however, purchased the property in 1999 at a reduced price and used the savings for the remediation, contracting with Dallas-based HBC Engineering. The city first had the area declared a Plume Management Zone, which allows for less strict and less costly cleanup when there is not potential for human contact with the groundwater. To prevent contact, the city issued a groundwater usage ordinance that prohibited the drilling of groundwater wells within the zone. The plan gained the necessary approval from the Texas Commission of Environmental Quality.
Construction on the facility, which was undertaken by Fort Worth, Texas-based Coronado Builders, began in summer 2002 after the cleanup was finished and the original structure razed. The new building, designed in the style of traditional Texas courthouses, boasts a 10,500-square-foot natatorium and a 29,000-square-foot activity center, which houses a ballroom, billiards room, kitchen, food counter, fitness center, computer classroom, craft room, and library and living room.
The facility also offers popular water aerobics classes, and the ballroom is used for weekly dances. “The diversity of programs offered at our state-of-the-art facility is truly remarkable, and we’re pleased that the center has become such an instant success for our senior community,” says Steve McCullough, Irving city manager.
Since the center’s opening, almost 6,000 seniors have signed up, compared to 1,500 members at the previous location. And at $5 per year, membership is quite a bargain. “To maximize the new facility as a community resource, we dropped the membership age from 55 to 50,” says Paul Gooch, Parks and Recreation director. “With the fitness center and pool, it’s a very energetic environment.”
In addition to satisfying the senior population, the center has increased traffic downtown and has helped revitalize the area. Other nearby renovations are under way, including a 1930s building-turned-office space and Irving’s first bed and breakfast. And as a rare bonus: “We’ve had a lot of people say they can’t wait to turn 50,” Tate says.