“A wonderful Christmas present to Griswold.”

December 22, 2022

How Griswold’s new, bigger senior center will serve the town’s growing senior population

Norwich Bulletin

GRISWOLD — After more than a decade of hard work and challenges, Griswold Senior Center Director Tina Falck had one question on her mind last Friday.

“How do you like your senior center?” she asked a crowd.

A resounding applause came from over 100 people during the grand opening of the new Griswold Senior Community Wellness Center, sharing the same driveway as McCluggage Manor on Taylor Hill Road. With its first day of operation on Monday, the facility, three times the size of the existing one at 22 Soule St. is expected to be in use for 35 years, accommodating an increasing senior population in town, Falck said.

The first membership meeting will be on Thursday, Jan. 26, with a noon lunch and 1 p.m. meeting, Falck said.

The town’s senior population is currently 17.2% if the total population, according to U.S. Census data. If Falck’s prediction of a 58% increase by 2040 is right, the senior population will be over 27%.

In 2011, the town held a senior citizen prom which was so popular there wasn’t enough room for the guests. This is where the inspiration for a new center came from, Falck said.

The original plan was to increase the size of the old building, but it eventually was determined a new building was needed, said Judith Merrill, president of the senior center membership committee and a member of the senior center building committee.

However, there were two road blocks and delays to the planning and construction of the project. One was the COVID-19 pandemic. The other was overspending the original budget.

The town bonded $7.5 million back in 2019 for the project. In January 2021, it was discovered the project was $1.5 million over budget. This led to tense Board of Finance and other town meetings discussing where the project could cut back on, and where to find more funding. The final cost of the project is around $9 million, said First Selectman Dana Bennett (R).

Despite the controversy, residents voted at a May 2021 referendum to continue the project. More funding was found, including $411,800 from the United States Department of Agriculture in July 2021, and most recently, $1.2 million in state bonding in March.

Officials at the state and federal level, including State Rep. Brian Lanoue (R), State Senator Heather Somers (R), and U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney (D) helped the town get the funding to finish the building.

The building was ready for moving in a week and a half before Friday, but senior center staff and Griswold’s Department of Public Works could still be seen moving in large pieces of furniture the day before. A donation of more furniture, thanks to American Industries, was still on its way.

Even though Bennett was one of the people concerned about the project going over budget last year, she said it’s “water under the bridge at this point.”

We’re so anxious to get in and get moving,” she said.
Falck also wants to move on from that stressful time.

“It was difficult to keep prolonging the opening date to the seniors,” she said. “I sensed their frustration, but that’s in the past.”

As space was the main reason for building a new senior center, the Griswold Senior Community Wellness Center has plenty of it. It’s three times bigger, sports a large commercial kitchen and hall, as well as office spaces, a library, an activity room and more.

Falck said she kept a rustic look as homage to Griswold’s mill town past.

In the old space, a podiatrist would visit every six weeks, but would have to share the same space with the quilters. Now, everyone can have their own space for programs and services, Falck said.

“It’s absolutely gorgeous,” said Voluntown resident Richard Wilber, president of the Griswold Veteran’s Coffeehouse. “There’s a lot of potential for the building and a lot of potential for the coffeehouse to get involved in a lot of different things in town.”

The Coffeehouse is a veteran’s social group which also provides information and help with benefits.

The group currently meets at the Old Pachaug Town Hall, but will move to the new senior center Jan. 4.

A larger and nicer location could help with the program’s already growing enrollment, Wilber said.

Griswold resident Joseph Pothier is happy to have the senior center, and is considering joining the coffeehouse.
“I don’t go that much, but I’m getting to that age I’ll start going more,” he said.

Madeleine Pothier, Joseph Pothier’s wife, said there’s been a group of eight to 12 older women getting together to sew at one of their houses, and the group is now moving into the senior center.

“We have a good time over there,” she said. “I think it’s going to be kind of hard to move from there to here with all our sewing machines, but I’m going to try it a couple of times.”

Todd Babbitt (D), current Griswold selectman and public works director, prior first selectman, and Falck’s husband, said the new senior center is “a wonderful Christmas present to Griswold.”

Voluntown resident Donald Barnes stopped to praise some of the work Falck has done for Griswold seniors, including helping provide 230 meals for seniors on Thanksgiving.

“She’s an asset to the community,” he said.

What’s next?

Looking ahead, the new center can be used to for community fundraising, or for more activities, including yoga, meditation, support groups, and health screenings, Falck said, emphasizing the wellness aspect.

“These are things we’ve dreamt about for so long, but we didn’t have the facility to do it,” she said.

If there are other programs and services needed, seniors can reach out to Falck and her team to see what can be done.

The town will still make use of the old senior center building, potentially turning it into an alternative school for teaching special needs students in town, Bennett said.