With South Brunswick's senior population growing, the Township Council is moving forward with plans to expand the . The council approved an ordinance at Tuesday's meeting that appropriates $2.9 million for both the expansion to the center and for lights to be installed on the softball fields at .
Both projects will be funded by the township's Open Space Trust Fund, with Middlesex County providing a 50 percent match from county open space funds.
"This project doesn't raise taxes and it has no impact on the general budget," said Public Affairs Coordinator Ron Schmalz. "The town continues to grow and we've seen a dramatic increase in the people using the Senior Center. A lot of residents are reaching that 55 and over age group, so we've seen more and more people taking part in the programs we offer. With the lights at Reichler Park, there has been more girls getting involved in the softball program over the last couple of years, so this allows that program to expand further with more options for the girls’ teams."
South Brunswick's since 2000, according to the 2010 census. Of the nearly 44,000 people living in South Brunswick, about 22 percent are between the ages of 45 and 64-years-old, and about 7 percent are over the age of 65.
"We’re using the as the model for the Senior Center," said Councilman Joseph Camarota. "Like we did for the Community Center, we are expanding an outdated building that was over 20-years-old and has outlived its usefulness, based on age and a tremendous increase in the 55-and-older segment of our population. In a way, this is for the recreational purposes of those that are 55 and older, as opposed to the Community Center that was more focused on our children, adolescents and adults that are 50 and younger."
The expansion plan calls for about 5,000-square feet to be added near the rear entrance of the existing auditorium at the Senior Center.
"We're going to be building a wing on to the back of the building for a wellness center that will host physical fitness activities, health and wellness lectures, and doctor screenings," said Director of the Office on Aging Christine Wildemuth. "This will all be health and fitness oriented. We do some of that now, but we just don't have a lot of space for it."
Wildemuth said the expansion also includes a small room for low impact exercise equipment that allows members to work out, in addition to exam rooms. The township is working on a partnership with a local hospital to provide doctors and nurses, who will perform various health screenings.
"With the number of baby boomers nearing retirement and the flux of people moving into town, we see more people watching their health, and this expansion focuses on health and wellness," Wildemuth said. "The space we have now hosts parties and events and is filled with tables and chairs, so it doesn't have much space. With the expansion we'll have a dedicated wing so we can have fitness classes and activities all day long."
The Senior Center currently has about 3,100 active members, Wildemuth said. The center, which was built in the 1970’s, was long overdue for an upgrade, according to Councilman Charles Carley.
"We've done a two-year study scoping out what we could do for the expansion, so this will allow us to segregate a recreation area that's separate from the places where people eat and have other activities," Carley said. "Plus this will provide exam areas for a health care component."
With matching funds for the project from Middlesex County, Camarota said it makes sense to move forward with an expansion that will benefit an already large, and still growing, portion of the population.
"Anyone who watches our budget meetings knows that I'm all for less government. But there are certain services we need to provide for people," he said. "The Senior Center is a growing, active, and vibrant part of the community. It provides socialization opportunities, recreation, health services, help with taxes, and help with legal issues. All of those things are very important to have for the growing senior population."
Earlier this month, the municipal budget was introduced calling for a 4 percent increase in the municipal portion of the tax bill, from 72 cents per $100 of assessed valuation to 75 cents. Under that rate, the owner of a home valued at $195,000 would see an increase of about $60 in municipal taxes.
Camarota said work is still ongoing to reduce the tax increase, but the expansion project will not have an impact on the budget.
"We think it's time we bring this building up to date and have it reflect the growth in the community over the last 20 years," he said.
No timetable has been set as of yet for the expansion project to begin, though Wildemuth said she's hopeful work will begin by the fall.