Osceola County COA plans new senior center

Former Hersey elementary school purchased for site

OSCEOLA COUNTY — The Osceola County Board of Commissioners approved the purchase of a former elementary school building to establish a new senior center for the Commission on Aging.

The purchase of Hersey Elementary School was recently completed and plans are in the works for renovations needed to get it ready for use by the COA.

“When I saw the building and walked through it for the first time it kind of gave me goosebumps to think about it,” COA director Justin Halladay said. “When we looked at it, we thought maybe this could be a facility, not to be shared with EMS, but that could be something our COA has never had – a dedicated senior center."

“Our staff is amazing, and we finally are going to have a facility that matches the quality of our staff,” he added. “The seniors and their families can look at it and know that there is a chance for them to have something more than just a meal.”

The county purchased the former Harvest Assembly of God church on Upton Avenue in Reed City in March 2020 with the intention of using it for a COA meal site and EMS training facility.

Halladay said the building would have required significant renovations to make it ADA compliant and upgrade the kitchen for meal preparation.

“Everything was delayed because of COVID, and when we finally got moving on it, we had the architectural drawings done and the engineers come in to draw up plans and provide cost estimates,” he said. “It was close to $700,000 to have it set up for what our needs were. That was to have the parking lot paved, put in ADA entrances into the building and to have the kitchen put in. That was a lot of money and ultimately it would serve as a training center and meal site only.

“When all was said and done," he continued, "it was going to be so high that the thought of putting that much money into that facility for what we were going to get out of it kind of forced us to put the brakes on and think about other options." 

The facility in Hersey is not “walk in ready” for what their needs will be, but it is very close, Halladay said. The cost of the building — $425,000 —  and what they will have to put into it will be less than what they would have to put into the Upton site for just a meal site.

“The only thing that will need to be done before we can move in is the bathrooms,” he said. “They are not ADA compliant, and where they are it was done for children, so we will get those done. The kitchen hasn’t been used in a few years and we will have to get a fire suppression hood put in, and we will transfer some equipment from Tustin. I will try to get grants to pay for the transition of the kitchen.

“We won’t need to have the kitchen ready to open (the senior center),” he added. “We can continue to prepare the meals in the Tustin facility as we have been doing and transport them to Hersey.”

Halladay said the size of the new facility will allow him to move the COA administrative offices to the new location, and possibly bring the veterans’ services department there, as well, and eventually, move the meal preparation from Tustin to the new location.

“This will make it where we are all at one location — the kitchen staff, the administrative staff, everybody will be in one spot,” he said. “We can combine some of our services and not be spread out.”

With the new facility, he said, they can give the seniors in the county something they have not had before, including educational opportunities and many additional activities that are not currently available at the meal sites.

“We will serve meals, obviously, but more importantly we will provide the social interaction that seniors need, and that need has really been evident during COVID,” Halladay said. "Our goal is for it to be a senior center and what that will look like is only limited by our imagination because we have all this property, all these rooms that we can turn into different areas.”

Halladay said he plans to create a walking path where the playground area used to be with benches for stopping and resting, to give seniors a safe place to walk. He also has plans for an outdoor garden center and pickle ball courts.

Inside the facility, the plans include using the gymnasium for meal service, and possibly shuffleboard, balance classes and dance classes. The different classrooms will be designated for office space, a media room with computers and a screen for viewing movies, a library for reading, a pool table, a game area and a craft room. 

“It will be whatever our clients want, and we can do it all in this facility,” he continued. “I am anticipating that the center will attract a lot of people that have not been coming to the meal sites, and that is fantastic because that means more of our seniors will be getting the nutrition they need, as well as the social interaction they need.”

Halladay said his goal is to have the new facility open next spring. Once the new facility is open and the COA administrative offices are moved, the facility in Evart will be closed.

“Before I did this, I went to my clients at the congregate site in Evart and told them what I wanted to do,” Halladay said. “If I had heard from them that they didn’t want to do it, that they didn’t want to leave Evart, we wouldn’t have done it. Everyone of them said that if they had the opportunity to have something more, even better, where they could go for more than just a couple of hours and it is only eight miles away, they were on board.”

The new senior center will serve Reed City, Evart, Hersey, Richmond Township, Lincoln Township, and Cedar Township, Halladay said. MOTA has agreed to provide transportation to seniors within the county that require it.

“Eventually we will sell the building in Evart, and once the kitchen is moved, we will sell the building in Tustin,” he said. “The meal site in Marion will stay and my plan is to utilize some of the savings to have a senior center in Marion, as well, where we can have more activities.”

“I am really excited about this, and I have been hearing from a lot of my clients that they are really excited about it too,” Halladay added. “This is an opportunity for us to have something in the area that we have never had. We can have something that really offers a lot to the community.”

For now, the county plans to hold on to the Upton Avenue property, board chairman Mark Gregory told the Herald Review. 

It is currently being set up for the Mecosta/Osceola circuit court judges to use as an off-site jury selection room. The courts previously used the Williams Auditorium on the Ferris State University campus for jury selection, but with the return of the students this fall that was no longer available.

“The courts will use it to do jury selection until they are allowed to fully return to the courtrooms,” Gregory said. “It is an interim place while COVID-19 protocols continue to be in place.”

Gregory said, at some point, the Health Safety and Grounds committee will determine if it is surplus property, and the board will make a decision about the property at that time. 

The board is considering building a new facility for EMS training, he said.