Handy Solution

Cicero Senior Center
Cicero, Ill.

By Deborah Meyer Abbs

Instead of having to meet at a local restaurant to socialize, senior citizens in Cicero, Ill., now have a state-of-the-art senior center to congregate. Though it took some hard work: The 50-year-old building that is home to the 4,640-square-foot center was formerly a hardware store.

"Being a land-locked community [adjacent to Chicago], we were looking for a spot to put a senior center," says Dennis Raleigh, a town trustee.

To help solve the problem, the city hired Burnidge Cassell & Associates, Inc. (BCA) to see what it would take to rehab the building located on the south side of Cicero.

"When I first visited the site, it was just a raw space," says Daniel Atilano, AIA, principal at BCA who oversaw the project. The roof was exposed, and the inside was mostly wide open.

External site improvements included moving the main entrance from the front of the building to the side (for easier access), adding an entry canopy, re-roofing, installing new windows and façade restoration. The building also has all new plumbing and electricity.

The inside of the Cicero Senior Center, which opened last August, is divided into three main spaces. The full kitchen has all stainless-steel appliances with a long breakfast (or anytime) bar where seniors are offered cooking classes. Computer terminals are located on the backside of the kitchen area, making a good use of space. The large multipurpose area has a built-in full-projection screen. Seniors often gather there to hear speakers and view presentations. Exercise classes such as tai chi also take place there every day, says Susan Banks, director of senior activities. In addition to the classes, a treadmill and stationary bike also are available for use. The third common area contains a utility sink for crafts, a library, and a lot of tables and chairs where people play games or just sit and chat.

Spunky seniors like Helen Antczak motivated the city to transform the building that had previously housed the hardware store into the new senior center.

Antczak, who has lived in Cicero her who whole life, calls the center "just beautiful." She enjoys the cooking classes, playing Bunko and cards.

"A group of us have been playing Sixty-Five [a card game] every day since it opened," Antczak says.

Many folks besides Antczak log plenty of time at the senior center, which is open Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

"We normally have between 50 to 60 people depending on what events are offered and the weather," says James Terracino, the building supervisor.

Besides the three main areas in the facility, it also has a vestibule, entryway, restrooms, storage and office space. The décor includes natural tones as well as purple and yellow.

"The really nice thing inside is that is has a lot of color, texture and patterns, and it makes you feel good," says Atilano says of the design choices.

Use of the facility is free for residents 62 and older, and the center is just part of a plethora of services offered at no cost.

"We offer free transportation to seniors seven days a week as well as free snow removal and lawn care," says Joe Pontarelli, director of senior services in Cicero, which has a population of about 86,000, with about 5,000 seniors. More than half of the senior population (around 2,900) are in Pontarelli's database, having been involved in some of events for seniors and/or used one of the services offered.

In 2002 the city received the Governor's Home Town Award in recognition of all the senior services it provides.

"Many of our senior citizens have lived here their whole lives—and put a lot into our town—so this is our way of giving something back," Raleigh says.

Prior to opening the Cicero Senior Center, the seniors shared a classroom that is attached to one of the town's three fire stations. Besides being much smaller, they had a very limited time to schedule events since the firefighters and police officers also held classes there.

"We are really grateful to BCA for all their work," Raleigh says of the senior center. "The people who use it, love it and continually thank the board for rehabbing the building and giving them their own space."

In turn, BCA says the city showed good stewardship because by reusing an existing building, the project cost was only $600,000. According to Atilano, a new building would have cost around $850,000, not including land costs.

Of course, besides cost, other benefits to "recycling" buildings are reducing waste and conserving resources. Sixty percent of landfills are made up of building construction waste, Atilano says. Using existing buildings also saves land space, plus water and sewage service is already available.

"It's ironic," Terracino says. "Senior men used to gather for coffee here when it was still a hardware store, and now it's the senior center."


Cicero Senior Center:

Burnidge, Cassell & Associates, Inc:

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