Committee approves senior center plan

Published 12:00 am Monday, July 8, 2002


LAPLACE – More than 30 area senior citizens gathered for lunch Monday at the St. John the Baptist Parish Senior Center, a small crowd compared to the 40 or 50 seniors that normally squeeze into the one-room facility on Airline Drive.

Space is a debilitating problem for the facility, stifling growth in the number of seniors frequenting the center and the availability of programs available to patrons, Executive Director Barbara Gralapp said.

The Senior Center began serving meals to area seniors in 1973. In 1977 the official Senior Center in LaPlace opened its doors to the public.

The St. John the Baptist Parish Council Finance Committee approved an administrative plan Tuesday to build a new St. John Parish Senior Center on parish-owned land, permitting Parish President Nickie Monica to begin looking for an architect to design the new facility.

If the St. John the Baptist Parish Council approves the use of parish land near Regala Park in Reserve, the center could be moving to a new facility as soon as 2004.

Administrators at the center hope the new facility will allow them to expand their services to accommodate seniors of all ages.

“If we have the funding, we need to appeal to all ages – from 60s to the 90s,” Gralapp said.

Parish President Nickie Monica said he passes the Senior Center on the way to his office in the morning and has seen many area seniors standing under the portico and entering the building. Having visited the center, Monica knows their need for space.

“The seniors in St. John the Baptist are very active and I want to provide them with more space for recreation,” Monica said.

Monica said he hopes the new building, when complete, will be a “state-of-the-art facility with space for indoor and outdoor recreation.”

“I envision walking trails, gazebos, more trees and outside facilities,” Monica said about his plan for the new center. “Reserve has the largest population of seniors in the area – Regala park could offer seniors walking paths, a swimming pool and basketball courts.”

The availability of the park could also give seniors that participate in the Senior Olympics more space for practice, Monica said.

The Senior Citizen Board has a conceptual idea about what they want,” said St. John the Baptist Parish Chief Administrative Officer Chris Guidry. “They want to design it for the more modern senior.”

Gralapp agreed with the plans laid out by Monica and Guidry.

According to Gralapp, there is only one room at the old building available for all scheduled activities, combining all skill levels and interests. Gralapp believes a complex with multiple rooms and a “spa-like atmosphere” would enable coordinators to schedule a greater variety of programs and classes for patrons, bringing a greater variety of seniors into the center.

“These are all just dreams” Gralapp said, “but I’d like to see more exercise equipment, a health bar where we could provide salads and juices and more rooms for art classes (in the new facility).

“A whirlpool would help with physical therapy.”

The Senior Center currently offers educational activities, health screenings, scheduled outings, daily lunches, Meals-on-Wheels and caretaker relief programs. The center also provides two pieces of exercise equipment.

Former football star and senior center patron Joe McQuater said he is happy about the decision of the Finance Committee to continue plans for a new facility.

“I’d like it to have an exercise program,” McQuater said. “I was a football player. I’d like to see equipment to help keep my legs and upper body in shape.”

“These ladies have done a lot with this one,” said another patron about the center. “I’m sure they’ll do a lot with the other center as well.”

An $18 million bond was issued at the beginning of the year. About $900,000 will be used for the new Senior Center. Murray and Associates is slated to work on the multi-million-dollar project.