Senior Center: An “Old” Home Is Now Very New

Martha Aasen remembers when Westport’s Senior Center was part of Staples High School.

Two small rooms were hidden between the fieldhouse and wood shop. It was open just a few hours a day. Lunch came from the school cafeteria.

In 2003, a new Senior Center opened on Imperial Avenue. It was a spectacular improvement.

Bright and airy, it was filled with rooms for meetings, lectures, fitness and films. There was a library and dining room too. Seniors flocked there for events, classes and camaraderie.

That was 15 years ago. When First Selectman Jim Marpe cuts a ribbon tomorrow (Friday, January 4, 11 a.m.), Westporters of all ages will marvel at the first major enhancement of the Senior Center since it opened.

The 9-month project comes in on schedule — and on budget. The town appropriated $3.975 million. Friends of the Senior Center raised $300,000 for equipment and amenities.

(Clockwise from lower left): Martha Aasen, Leslie Wolf, Stan Nayer and Sue Pfister in the lobby of the newly modernized Senior Center.

Last week, Senior Center director Sue Pfister, Friends president Leslie Wolf, and Aasen — now in her 90s, and as passionate about the Center as ever — offered a tour of the new facility. It blends seamlessly with the original.

The 5,000-square foot new wing includes:

  • A new fitness center, with modern treadmills and machines
  • A strength classroom, also used for tap dancing and Zumba
  • A new library, with a computer and magnifiers
  • A drop-in game room
  • All new furniture and carpeting
  • New display cases for artwork
  • Outdoor access to the adjacent Baron’s South meadow, for tai chi and meditation
  • Offices for program manager Holly Betts, and interns
  • New restrooms with showers (for when the Senior Center is used as an emergency shelter).

Martha Aasen on the new treadmill. Doors open onto the Baron’s South park.

Other parts of the Senior Center have been modernized too. There are new floors, chairs and tabletops in the “Sue’s Cafe” dining room (where “grab-and-go” food will soon be available); a new wood floor next door, for dance classes; a second art room, and a handsome new custom desk in the entry foyer.

“It’s even better than we envisioned,” says Aasen — who was closely involved in the project — proudly.

“We’ve had so many meetings, and we saw all the plans. But when you actually see it finished, it’s unbelievable.”

“Stunning!” adds Pfister.

New windows provide the same airy look as the original wing of the Senior Center.

The Senior Center director credits the project’s smooth completion to “tremendous cooperation” from local officials. The Building Department’s Steve Smith, the Department of Public Works, and Parks & Recreation director Jen Fava were all all-in.

Architect Brian Scheuzger designed the original building too. A.P. Construction — which is also handling the Westport Library’s Transformation Project — did all the work.

The Senior Center attracts a wide range of people, Pfister notes: Those who are very active; those looking for quiet activities; those who want to meet old friends, and those seeking companionship.

It’s a welcoming facility for some, a second home for others.

Now — for all of them — Westport’s Senior Center is better than ever.

Workers were still finishing up — and unloading furniture — last week.

10 responses to “Senior Center: An “Old” Home Is Now Very New

  1. All that time and energy and no pool? What a gross oversight.

  2. As an almost 67 year old, with an impending fear of nursing homes, I find myself wondering why I would ever want to frequent a “senior center.” There’s a faint whiff of capitulation in the air. I always turn off the “A Place For Mom” ads. Isnt inclusion preferable to isolation? Beware the slippery slope.

    • Eric, I can’t speak for other places. But the Westport Senior Center is a VERY active, involved place. It meets the needs — programming, stimulation, camaraderie, inclusion, food — for a huge variety of people.

      My mother — who had a rich social and intellectual life outside of the Senior Center — found great joy there in Zumba classes, book discussions and other groups. It meets other people’s needs in many other ways. The Senior Center is one of the jewels of Westport. If you’re ever back east, I’m sure director Sue Pfister would be happy to give you a tour that will fascinate you.

  3. Susan Pfister

    Eric: The Westport Center for Senior Activities will blow you away. It’s a college campus-like environment; vibrant, active, challenging, stimulating, welcoming. I’d love to share this wonderful facility with you. Westport should feel ever so proud to value its older citizens. Not every community does! Dan is right, come on over next time you’re back east.

    • Richard Fogel

      i agree with Susan. The center is lucky to have such a dedicated kind leader. The center does a lot of good and is educational to all.

  4. I had no idea that the massive volume of soil excavated from the senior center construction site was all going to be dumped in that formerly nice meadow to the south. It’s shocking. And dispiriting.

  5. Missing in action: A pool, sorely needed by seniors.

    • David J. Loffredo

      There once was an opportunity to have a perfect symbiotic relationship with the YMCA on this site, but that was thwarted by a short-sighted First Selectman’s office and local politics.

      Not only would have the Y have provided first class aquatic facilities, there would be far more exercise space and targeted programming. I also think the combination of the YMCA preschool and the senior center would have been ingenious as highlighted in this semi-related PBS piece –

      I think not co-locating the YMCA on this site which would have benefited just about everyone involved is still the biggest mistake Westport has made in the 20 years since we moved back.

  6. Linda D Parker

    I’m sure your seniors will really appreciate this excellent addition !

  7. David A Cleveland

    I assumed that the senior center was a subsidized part of the town of Westport. I can see charging for lunches or for classes that require some kind of supplies but a gym charge, really. The for profit gyms in the area charge anywhere from 10 to $20 a month. and they’re 10 times the size. Silver sneakers in Connecticut was subsidized by the secondary health insurance companies 100% but now you have to pay 50% of what normal membership is at participating gyms. After living here for 35 years, Westport thanks but no thanks