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A fine senior moment

Chris Schembri cuts the ribbon at Plymouth’s senior center, as Constance DiLego cheers at the podium.

Debee Tlumacki for The Boston Globe

Chris Schembri cuts the ribbon at Plymouth’s senior center, as Constance DiLego cheers at the podium.

PLYMOUTH — Positioned for some prime people-watching in the lobby of Plymouth’s new senior center at its recent official opening, 94-year-old Althea McNie summed up her opinion of the building in one short phrase: “It’s astonishing.”

Visitors swirled around McNie, eager to get their first glimpse of Plymouth’s new digs for its 12,000 older citizens, using words like “beautiful,” “amazing,” “fabulous,” “awesome,” and even “magnificent” to describe what they saw.

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McNie was a longtime regular at the town’s former senior center, headquartered in a Cordage Park building for the last six years. “The other place was OK,” she said. “It served the purpose, but this is like going to a grand hotel.”

The new facility may even inspire McNie to broaden her pursuits beyond daily card games. She contemplated the possibility of joining an exercise class “for balance and stretching.”

Plymouth’s new $9.9 million facility, located on Nook Road, is

The new Plymouth Council on Aging building.

Debee Tlumacki for the Boston Globe

The new Plymouth Council on Aging building.

the result of more than a decade of lobbying, followed by six years of planning and construction.

The project was funded as part of a $199 million tax increase voters approved in 2006 to cover the cost of two new schools and a senior center. According to Building Committee chairman David Peck, construction cost was $8 million, with an additional $1.9 million for furnishings and other expenses.

The 18,000-square-foot building houses offices, several activity rooms for games, lectures and crafts, a computer room with eight stations, and a spacious dining hall and function room. The veterans’ services office is set to open there in February, equipped with its own entry.

The center is on the same campus as the town’s new Plymouth North High School. The back of the center overlooks the high school’s track and athletic fields, providing senior sports fans with a bird’s eye view of competitions from indoors or from the balcony and outdoor patio.

State Representative Thomas Calter said the proximity of the two age populations opens the way for all kinds of intergenerational possibilities.

“My hope is the youth will gain a great deal of wisdom, and we will gain a great deal of insight on the challenges they have in their lives,” the Kingston Democrat said.

Standing beneath the building’s Classical portico amid a crowd of well-wishers on Dec. 8, 90-year-old Chris Schembri, the town’s first Council on Aging director, cut the festive red ribbon with a pair of oversized scissors. During Schembri’s tenure, from 1973 to 2003, seniors were served out of an 80-year-old former Catholic school on Court Street. 

“We were happy to have it for the first 20 years, then people began to complain,” Schembri said before the ceremony. The outdated two-story building lacked an elevator for handicapped accessibility.

Dinah O’Brien, Plymouth’s director of community services, told attendees the former council director lobbied vigorously for an adequate senior facility.

“Chris Schembri kept poking me in the side with a sharp stick saying, ‘When are you going to do something about this?’” she said.

Her voice brimming with emotion, current Council on Aging director Constance DiLego told well-wishers, “This may be a gray day, but there are golden opportunities ahead of us.”

The intergenerational mingling was already underway, with Plymouth North art students

Michael Bartnowski of VFW Post 1822 held the flag during the grand opening ceremony.

Debee Tlumacki for the Boston Globe

Michael Bartnowski of VFW Post 1822 held the flag during the grand opening ceremony.

displaying some of their work for the occasion. The high school jazz band performed at the reception, and Honor Society members circulated with trays of light refreshments.

“I like the layout, and it has a really good atmosphere,” said Michael Bambrick, a high school junior who says one way students might help at the center would be to share their technology skills.

“Technology basically dominates society,” Bambrick said. “People need to learn it at any age.”

Troy Riley called Dec. 8 a “proud day” for Plymouth. “The town could have done it halfway, but instead they made this one of the most beautiful buildings in Plymouth,” the 71-year-old resident said. While she hadn’t frequented the center before, Riley planned to check out the new facility’s offerings, naming a long list of personal interests, from yoga and crafts to seminars on downsizing.

Riley, who has a granddaughter in her junior year at Plymouth North, is excited about the intergenerational possibilities. “I can’t think of anything better than mixing generations,” Riley said. “That’s what keeps you going and full of energy.”

The new location will enable 93-year-old Geneva Dicks to once again use the senior center, since she lives nearby. Dicks had been a meals-on-wheels volunteer when the operation was on Court Street, but stopped using the center when it moved to Cordage Park.

“Now I can walk there,” she said. “I’m very, very pleased. I’ll be able to come down and see my friends more and get involved in things.”

Christine Legere can be reached at christinelegere@yahoo.com.
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