Grove City's Evans Center renovation project nearing end, but reopening date still uncertain

Alan Froman
ThisWeek group
John Manering, a facilities-maintenance technician with the city of Grove City, installs drywall inside the auditorium at the Evans Center, 4330 Dudley Ave., as part of the center's ongoing renovations Feb. 9.

A renovation project is sprucing up the Evans Center in Grove City.

But it is still uncertain when residents will be able to return to senior center.

The Evans Center building at 4330 Dudley Ave. has been closed since the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020.

"Since the senior population is the most vulnerable (to COVID-19), we are taking every precautionary step to follow the guidelines set forth by the (Ohio) Department of Aging and Franklin County," recreation supervisor Kelly Sutherland said. "The reopening guidelines are much more restrictive when it comes to senior recreational facilities. 

"We don't have a reopening date at this point, and we really can't set one until we show how the state guidelines change after the vaccination numbers increase and COVID numbers start to decline," she said. "We want to open all of our facilities and return to offering programs and classes to the residents as much as everyone wants us to, but we don't want to endanger our residents, staff or volunteers. We have to make sure that we are providing safe and healthy programs for everyone."

The Evans Center renovation project is being completed in three phases, Sutherland said. 

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The first two phases involved work on the east and west side of the building and are almost completed, she said.

The east-side phase includes improvements to restrooms to bring them up to Americans with Disabilities Act standards; the installation of a new speaker system and technology upgrades, new ceiling tiles and fans, cabinets and storage replacement and new paint in the multipurpose room; and new ceiling tiles and paint for the east entry.

The west-side improvements include new flooring and a redesign of the rec room; updated counters, flooring and painting for the west bathroom; new paint and cabinets for classrooms; and new flooring for the entrance and new ceiling tiles and repainting throughout the area. A new reception area, including a reception desk, also is being created.

The third phase involves improvements to the auditorium and will include upgraded technology, the removal of an overhang and new soffit, lighting and ceiling tiles.

All work is expected to be completed by the end of March, Sutherland said.

"We were able to do most of the work in-house with our facilities-services crew, and it saved the city a lot of money," she said. 

The estimated total cost of the project is $150,000, with the funding coming from the city's capital budget, Sutherland said.

"We were planning on updating just the east bathroom for ADA compliance prior to COVID, but with the closure, we were able to do much more than originally planned," she said. "Without participants in the building, we didn't have to worry about closing sections off or disrupting the programming or creating safety concerns if we tried to update areas while open."

After the Evans Center was closed in March 2020, the building was used for several months as the headquarters for a call center the city had created to help residents and business owners with their COVID-19 questions and concerns.

The call center operated through July, Jefferson said.

Many of the callers were seniors who previously had relied on the Evans Center as their go-to for information and socialization, she said.

"We were able to connect them to the resources and organizations that could provide the services they needed," Jefferson said.

It wasn't only incoming calls that were being handled, though, she said.

"We quickly evolved into doing well-being checks, where we would use our roster of residents who participate in the Evans Center's programs and activities to make outbound calls," Jefferson said. "You'd call somebody and say, 'Hi, this is Tammy from the Evans Center. I just wanted to check on how you're doing and if you need anything.'"

The call center was operated by the city's parks and recreation staff or other city employees who temporarily were idle due to the pandemic and the closing of all city facilities, she said.

Usually, the same person would make the well-being call to a resident, Jefferson said.

"We were able to build a relationship with them during those early months, when everyone was so isolated," she said.

While the call center was ended as the number of in-bound calls decreased, the Evans Center staff remain only a phone call away for seniors who are seeking information, assistance or just a friendly voice to talk to, Jefferson said.

"We're still here, Monday through Friday, to answer calls" she said. "A lot of them do call us to tell us how they are doing and sometimes update us about Evans Center regulars who have been ill. It's nice to be able to touch base with them."

Another source of information that's been available since the center was closed is a Facebook page coordinated by the Evans Center and the Evans Senior Club.

The club serves in a similar way as a Friends of the Library organization, club president Elaine Moody said.

"We work with Tammy and the staff at the Evans Center to plan programs and parties and group outings and provide refreshments, and we have monthly meetings when the center is open," she said.

Annual club dues are $5 for Grove City and Jackson Township residents and $10 for others, Moody said. About 900 people are club members.

The fees are used by the club to help pay for the activities the club sponsors and for refreshments and other supplies for the center, she said.

The club's Facebook page, facebook.com/evan.senior.52, has offered a series of technology help videos and has provided information about the times and dates for drive-thru meal events sponsored by LifeCare Alliance, senior club vice president Dedra Thompson said.

In her position as dining-room coordinator for LifeCare Alliance, Thompson managed the agency's program of providing daily meals for seniors at the Evans Center.

The regular meal program was postponed when the Evans Center was closed, but seniors still have access to meals from LifeCare Alliance, she said.

"We coordinate the delivery of our meals to seniors who sign up for them through the Meals on Wheels program," Thompson said.

Although current figures are not available, about 25 to 30 seniors initially signed up to have meals delivered to them, she said.

The drive-thru events included regular cookouts held in the Evans Center parking lot from July through October, Jefferson said. Seniors also were able to pick up a meal provided by LifeCare Alliance during a Thanksgiving dinner drive-thru event Nov. 24 and a Christmas drive-thru Dec. 22.

About 100 people were served meals at each event, Thompson said.

Notices about Evans Center members who have died are shared through the Facebook page, too, she said. 

The Evans Center Facebook page has 157 members, Thompson said.

"We also have more happy types of postings," she said. "When we first started the Facebook page, I'd drive over to someone's house and take a picture of a garden they were growing. We might post a joke someone's submitted or a positive message to try to keep people's spirits up."

The Facebook page serves as a way to keep seniors connected and engaged during the time they can't visit the Evans Center, she said.

"That's probably the biggest thing we're all missing from the Evans Center," Moody said. "Just having a place to gather and socialize."

"We can't wait to reopen and have everybody back," Jefferson said. "We really do miss our seniors."

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