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City plans for West Ashley senior center

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WEST ASHLEY SC (WCSC) -

West Ashley is getting a senior center. City and county officials are working with Roper St. Francis to build it on the hospital's main property.

"There's not one place for seniors in West Ashley," said Aubry Alexander, Charleston City Councilmember.

According to Alexander, that's going to change. He's been talking to community members about it for five years and says he's looking forward to seeing the plan through.

A new facility, that could be up to four acres, is in the works for the property next to the emergency center on the main Roper St. Francis property.

It's a prime location, right off I-526 and Glenn McConnell Parkway. According to Alexander, another entrance will be created from Savage Road, making for even easier access from nearby residents.

The projected $7 million facility is being designed to meet the health and social needs of the nearly 70,000 senior citizens who live in West Ashley.

"I know there's a big demand, that there are a lot of people interested in it," said Elizabeth Bernat, Director of Senior Service for Roper St. Francis.

Bernat runs the Lowcountry Senior Center on James Island. She agrees it's time to create another place for seniors.

"West Ashley is such a large community, there's a large group of older adults and for many older adults coming to James Island is just a little too far," said Bernat.

The James Island facility, also managed by Roper St. Francis, was opened in 2002. Bernat says it's been a huge success and will be what the West Ashley center's design is based off of.

"That's the real purpose of a senior center is to bring people together," said Bernat.

In 2010, close to 30,000 West Ashley seniors were surveyed. 77 percent said they'd used a gym, while 68 percent said they'd participate in exercise classes involving balance and flexibility. Bernat says both will be components of the new space.

More attractions will be health screenings, support groups, and educational speakers.

"It's the socialization of the senior center that's so powerful," said Bernat.

Alexander says it fits into city leaders plan for an overall economic development plan for West Ashley.

"It's just one component of making a strong community," said Alexander.

Currently, Roper St. Francis has started hosting senior wellness events at the Bees Ferry Recreational Center in Grand Oaks. This is giving them a good idea of what seniors will want in the new facility.

Alexander says construction is expected to start in the next year and a half. The center expected to open by the end of 2016.

In total the project is estimated to cost $7 million. So far, the county has put down around $300,000, while the city has already collected nearly $2.5 million for the project, according to Alexander.

"Our economy is growing very well, so last year we had excesses in budget, that's where the $2.5 million came from," said Alexander. "We're expecting to see the same type of performances in the next couple of years."

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