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Senior center work on schedule

Metal beams and wooden framework have given way to rising brickwalls at the construction site of the developing Jimmy FurlowSenior Citizens Center, where contractors are shrugging off thehigh heat of June and working on schedule for a fall completiondate.

Matt Pace, a project manager with Hattiesburg-based SmithPainting and Contracting, said the 4,000 square-foot structureshould be completed by the target date in November. He said hiscrew is far enough along in the job that interior work – such asinstalling floors, ceilings, electrical wiring and plumbing – willsoon be undertaken by more than 12 subcontractors.

“We’re just fixing to get cranked up with subcontractors,” Pacesaid. “Some are there now. Everything has been smooth andeverybody’s been working together great. It’s been a niceproject.”

Pace said the approximately $800,000 building would includeplenty of space for the senior citizens awaiting its completion,including a pair of 200 square-foot “game rooms,” a massive 1,200square foot multi-purpose room, restrooms, offices and a kitchenarea. He said the building would also include a grandiose-style,octagonal meeting room with 15-foot ceilings.

Brookhaven Recreation Department Director Terry Reid said thosespaces would be used for exercise programs, computer classes, bookclubs and, most importantly, whatever visiting senior citizensrequest. Though the center will fall under his direction oncecompleted, he said it would basically be “run by the seniors.”

Reid said plans are for the center to be managed by a full-timedirector with a college degree in therapeutic recreation or asimilar field of study. He and city leaders want the center to beoperated professionally.

“It needs to be staffed with qualified people to do what needsto be done,” Reid said.

Exactly what programs – and how many – will exist within thecenter depends on funding, and Mayor-elect Les Bumgarner said heplans to see the center used to its full capacity.

“We sure don’t want to build that building and then sit thereand underfund it,” he said. “We’re going to try to get seniorsinvolved in as many activities as they want to participate in.”

Bumgarner said he and city aldermen would soon begin factoringthe center’s projected upkeep, utility and staff costs into thecity budget, adding that leaders “have a few ideas” for fundingopportunities. He said research would be conducted by speaking withthe leaders of other cities and towns who operate similar centersto learn their mistakes and successes.

“We’re excited about it,” Bumgarner said. “Really, we’re kind ofin uncharted territory. A lot of it depends on participation, andfrom the outlook right now, I think participation is going to bevery high.”

Outgoing Brookhaven Mayor Bob Massengill said participation wasa factor studied when talk of building the center first began fouryears ago, grown out of discussions for a more general communitycenter. He said city leaders wanted to make sure Brookhaven’sseniors were interested in such a project before committing toit.

“Through (Copiah-Lincoln Communtiy College), we found there werea lot of senior citizen programs,” Massengill said. “We went tovarious meetings, there were seniors at these meetings and itseemed like there was a real interest for us to have a seniorcitizen center in Brookhaven. We need to find out if this reallywas an interest of our seniors, and we had overwhelming responsefrom all areas of the community.”

After affirming interest within the senior community, Massengillsaid the city received a $450,000 Community Development Block Grantthrough the Mississippi Development Authority, put up approximately$350,000 in city funds and added a smaller $28,000 grant to thepile. He said the center, upon its completion, would be second tonone.

“I wish it had been open while I was still mayor, but it will bein existence later this year,” said Massengill. “I want us to seethat we have a place where seniors can come to meet … and thatthey’ve got ‘their’ facility. That’s what I’m excited about,because I am one of ‘those.’ I really think it’s going to be greatfor us to have a community senior citizens center.”