A plan to recycle an empty school into a country-wide, multipurpose center for senior citizens is now under consideration in Montgomery County.
The county's Division of Elder Affairs recently proposed this idea to the Montgomery County Council, pointing out that local population changes have created the need for the school's conversion.
For the first time, Montgomery County citizens over 65 years old out-number those under 5 years of age, according to a county planning board estimate. And several public schools have closed due to a lack of enrollment.
The proposal is supported by a feasibility study which says that "elementary schools are adaptable to the program requirements of a multipurpose senior center . . . (A school's) conversion to a senior center is a natural event when one considers the change in the characteristics of population that appears imminent."
Establishing a county-wide multi-purpose center for seniors has been a goal in Montgomery County for several years. Such a center would be "a facility in which older people may come together to fulfill many of their social, physical, and intellectual needs," subscribing to a definition proposed by the National Council on the Aging, Inc., Senior Citizens Division.
Two centers that meet the required criteria now operate in the county, but both have some conditions limiting availability.
Montgomery County's population changes reflect a nationwide trend toward decreasing proportions of young people and increasing proportions of elderly. While the county's general population increased by 10 percent during the first half of this decade, the population 55 years old and over increased by 35 percent. Within this group there was an increase of 46.1 percent in persons aged 65-74. The planning board has projected that the over-55 population will be 134,140 in 1979, compared with 70,300 in 1970.
The proposed multipurpose center would bring together under one roof the various services available now to seniors. According to the proposal health activities would include informative fairs and screenings for vision, hearing, blood pressure and dental condition. A physical fitness program would be modeled from one recommended by the State Office on Aging, and there would be alcohol and drug abuse counseling.
Nutrition services would include a Title VII Lunch and Fun Program (nutritious noon meals for a nominal suggested donation), diet and nutrition classes, food stamp sales, consumer education and instruction on shopping and cooking for one person.
Employment and education services would include job training, skills refreshers and counseling. Help in finding a job would be provided in cooperation with the Over 60 Counseling and Employment Service. Retirement planning workshops and regular adult education classes would be scheduled at the center, and library services, including large print and talking books, would be provided.
The recreation component of the center's programs would include arts and crafts, workshops in the use of basic tools, woodworking, household repairs, car maintenance, theater groups and hobby clubs. There would be a quiet lounge for reading, chess, bridge and a place for noisy activities such as pool or conversation. Gardening, bird watching, nature study, volley ball, tennis and other outdoor activities would also be arranged.
The proposed facility would provide space for the staff members of the Division of Elder Affairs, who are responsible for planning, assessing and monitoring all programs for seniors. Coordination of such programs as telecare, tax assistance, outreach, friendly visitor and RSVP would become more efficient and effective, according to the proposal.
The division expects it would have greater flexibility to respond to needs for program changes and additions if it were on the scene and had the physical facility at its disposal.
Proponents say one advantage of a multipurpose center, particularly when it is located on a former school site, is that when a full range of service is available in one location, it reduces the need for transportation, a common problem for elders. Outdoor space, parking and bus loading areas are standard provisions of school sites.
The Division of Elder Affairs anticipates that once an individual makes contact with the center, the chances for broadening participation are great because many opportunities are at hand.
Concluding comments in the feasibility report pointed out that renovating an existing school for the multi-purpose center would reduce costs by more than half that of building a new facility. Renovation would also be quicker, the report says, even allowing some use of the center while renovation is underway.
As Lynn Chaitovitz, chief planner for the Division of Elder Affairs, said, "A multipurpose senior center is an ideal example of recycling a school building. Just as the board of education dedicates it buildings to giving every child a chance for growth and fulfillment, we have the self-same goal - for the country's elders."