Senior center nears reality

·3 min read

Oct. 27—The long-awaited Senior Wellness Center is inching closer to reality with a groundbreaking slated for Monday and construction set to begin in February, city officials say.

Parks and Recreation Director Jason Olsen told the City Council during its Tuesday study session that his department hopes to see the center open in February 2023. The project brings to an end a nearly decade-long search for a center location and design.

Olsen told the council the ad hoc committee approved of the design plans and budget on Sept. 23.

"This should be a huge celebration because this has been a long, long process working toward this — almost a decade," Olsen said.

The center is one of several quality of life projects paid for in part by the voter-approved half-cent Norman Forward Sales Tax Fund.

The council approved $3.9 million in Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security funds to be spent on the project after it exceeded original cost estimates.

The center's total budget is $12.4 million.

Amenities will include an indoor walking track, saltwater heated pool, craft rooms, event space and theatre, to name a few, Olsen said. Three wellness rooms will be used for vaccinations, wellness checks, mental health or even "massages, pedicures ... anything can happen in those rooms," he said.

An open space will include a stage for theatrical performances, concerts and on-stage fitness instructors to conduct classes, Olsen said.

Naming the facility could be a challenge, but two options are the Senior Wellness Center or Adult Wellness Center. While it will be open to people aged 50 and older, the term senior could be off-putting to those who do not consider themselves "senior citizens," Olsen said.

The center will be located at the southeast corner of N. Findlay Avenue and E. Rich Street in the Norman Regional Health System's Porter Campus thanks to a land swap between the city and NRHS.

As previously reported by The Transcript, the city has been negotiating a trade-off of city-owned property with the Norman Regional Hospital Authority for nearly two years. City-owned land accounts for 12 acres, which NRHS has leased from the city at no cost for the operation of a hospital.

After the purchase of 12 acres, NRHS will own 29 acres for the Porter Health Village and convey 718 N. Porter to the city, while the city will retain 4.1 acres for the Senior Wellness Center.

The council approved a memorandum of understanding in August, and has eyed 718 N. Porter for a possible homeless resource center and permanent emergency overnight shelter.

Ward 2 Lauren Schueler asked NRHS President and CEO Richie Splitt when the city could take possession of 718 N. Porter. During a presentation, Splitt said NRHS and the city have had to work through title issues, like easements that had not been vacated.

"We're still working through those issues," Splitt said. "We had to get that all cleaned up to know where to place existing or future buildings."

Zoning applications would begin Monday, but he did not have a timeline answer for the council on when the city occupy that property. City Manager Darrel Pyle told the council he expects the close to occur in February 2022.

Council also heard from Splitt on the progress of NRHS' ongoing expansion of its Inspire Health Plan, changes to the Healthplex and Porter Health Village campuses.

Leaders broke ground on a free-standing emergency room center in June, and plan to open the department — named Norman Regional Nine — in June 2023, The Transcript previously reported. It will be located at the southwest corner of State Highway 9 and 24th Avenue SE, and is scheduled to be complete by late 2022, Splitt said.

Next on the list will be expansions to the Healthplex, and an ambulatory pavilion and cancer center by mid-2023. A behavioral center and the Porter Health Village improvements will continue through 2025.

Mindy Wood covers City Hall news and notable court cases for The Transcript. Reach her at mwood@normantranscript.com or 405-416-4420.

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