While dust is still flying and blueprint plans are scattered throughout the project, the new Oneida County Department on Aging facility is projected to open its doors in the early part of February.
For Dianne Jacobson, director of Oneida County’s Department on Aging, that will be a happy day. “This is a facility that will really be an asset to the community,” she said. “With this new location and remodel we have so many more options and programs we can offer.”
For 15 years Jacobson has worked as the Director of the Department on Aging, and in those years she has seen the needs for the fastest growing portion of the Northwoods’ population, those 60 and older, grow. The current facility is located on Thayer Street just a block up from Hodag Park. This building has served the senior community for more than 30 years but as more programs become available and more seniors join this demographic, space has become an issue in addition to the rising cost of maintaining an aging building.
For close to five years Jacobson and the Commission on Aging campaigned for a new facility to accommodate the changing needs of the senior population. It has been a roller coaster of a ride for these folks who have worked diligently to present options to county board members for a place where seniors can gather and programs geared toward this population can take place. Then in July of 2007 an anonymous donor presented the Department on Aging $100,000 with a couple of caveats. The money was to go toward a new facility and it was to be used within a certain time frame or the gift would be retracted. This put pressure on the committee, and Jacobson, to find a suitable location for a new senior center.
Options ran the gamut from looking to purchase land from the YMCA of the Northwoods with the idea of building a brand new facility, to remodeling vacant car dealerships. And then Trig Solberg, who owned the Northern Advantage building, approached Gary Baier, chairman of the sub-committee formed to look for a new facility, about making the building available to the county last summer. County board members and Commission on Aging committee members quickly saw the advantages this particular location could provide.
In October of 2010 the county purchased the building for $1.4 million and determined that it would not only make a great facility but also would be an ideal location for the county’s Health Department. Estimated costs for remodeling ran close to $430,000 with another $150,000 for computer infrastructure.
While the majority of funding to purchase the building, $900,000, would come from county coffers, some funding would also be brought to the table by the Department on Aging itself, including $60,000 from a Department on Aging account and $90,000 from a Department on Aging fundraising account. Monies from the tax levy were also set aside for this project in 2007 and 2008 amounting to $400,000.
The remodeling of the former two-story Northern Advantage building started in the middle of 2010 and has been broken down into phases. Phase 1 of the project, which includes most of the work to complete the remodeling of the first floor, came in at a cost of $226,639 with $199,400 coming from Department on Aging funds (including the money given by the anonymous donor) and $27,239 coming from the general fund. Houtari construction of Medford was awarded this project.
That phase is almost completed and a tour of the project in progress reveals a facility that will be an admirable addition to the community. The most notable change to the original structure of the former building has been the addition of a state-of-the-art kitchen facility; a much needed asset for the seniors of the community. “Currently we serve a hot meal to about 100 seniors a day,” said Jacobson. “However, I know those numbers will go up once we open. Once people come and see what we have to offer I think they will come back again and again.”
The newly remodeled kitchen includes a new industrial dishwasher and stove, a steam table, more shelving space for supplies and venting systems to accommodate these appliances. In addition to the hot meals served at the center every day, the kitchen is also used to make fundraiser meals throughout the year and was remodeled with convenience, safety and efficiency in mind.
There is also more space for storage which will be a big improvement over the facility on Thayer Street. While the new facility boasts just a little under 9,000 usable square feet, the current location has about 7,000 square feet and some of that footage includes an outside shed where much of the supplies needed for the home meal delivery program are stored. “Once we get settled everything will be under one roof,” said Jacobson. “That will be a big improvement for our volunteers.”
While the kitchen took up a majority of the remodeling funds, some construction also had to be undertaken in the reception space. Jacobson wanted to make sure this area would present a pleasant and welcoming atmosphere for visitors and Mary Ann Seefeld, owner of Designed Interiors from Three Lakes, was hired for this portion of the remodel. Already wallpaper has been installed in a seating area and soon the wood-like vinyl flooring will also be installed.
In addition to the remodeling on the first floor of the building (the Health Department will be occupying the second floor) there will also be satellite offices for an Aging and Disability Resource Center (ADRC). The ADRC is a newly expanded governmental program that includes not only Oneida County but Vilas, Forest and Taylor counties, as well as three Native American tribes. Small changes were also made to make office space to accommodate the handful of employees who work for the Department on Aging and there are conference rooms which hardly needed any remodeling at all.
At first glance it seems like it may be more than a couple of weeks before the new facility opens, but Curt Krouze, director of building and grounds, is optimistic that the doors will open by February. “The county made the decision to include the ADRC is this facility only a couple of weeks ago and that remodeling had to be done before the senior center could open because it’s all connected,” he said. “Right now we’re waiting on doors and frames and when we get those the new senior center should be good to go but it will be early summer before the health department will be moving in.”
For Jacobson, the opening of the center will mean many things to a lot of people. “This will be an asset not only to the seniors of Oneida County, but for the entire community and county as a whole,” she said. “This new facility is truly one to be proud of.”