MOUNT PLEASANT — Playing bridge with friends at the town’s Thomasena Stokes- Marshall Senior Center is how Charles Bell spends Monday and Tuesday afternoons.
“Nice service. Good, hot coffee,” Bell said of the center’s Harry M. Hallman Jr. Cafe.
But some things about the popular center could be better.
“The card room is too small,” he said.
That will be changing as the town embarks on a $1.8 million expansion to double the center’s size to more than 14,000 square feet.
Since opening nearly four years ago with about 400 members, the center has grown to a membership of nearly 2,300.
“It just keeps getting bigger and bigger,” said Town Administrator Eric DeMoura.
Bell said the center is a bargain with its $72 annual membership, which the town plans to raise to $100. A public hearing on the fee hike and presentation on the senior center expansion will be held at tonight’s Town Council meeting, which starts at 6 p.m.
The same membership rate applies to town and Charleston County residents. Stokes- Marshall said she fought against a recommendation to raise the county resident membership to $200. She recently went to the County Council Finance Committee to ask for a contribution to the town senior center. In response, over the next three years, the county has agreed to provide $120,000 for the center, she said.
As a result of Stokes-Marshall’s efforts, the membership fee will remain the same for county and town residents. She wants the town to generate income by renting the senior center when it is not in use, much like it does with Alhambra Hall.
Town Recreation Department Director Ken Ayoub said the center’s heavily used exercise equipment is showing a lot of wear and tear because of high demand. The center expansion will have a larger exercise room, he said.
“It’s been a big social venue for people as well,” Ayoub said.
DeMoura said the senior center building expansion is funded with budget surplus in the general fund.
Ayoub said the annual membership fee increase is needed for program costs. “We don’t take rate increases lightly,” he said.
A contract will be awarded this summer for the senior center building expansion. Construction, which is expected to take 18 months, will start in the fall. The expansion will include a library, an exercise room that is twice as big, two other multi-purpose rooms and additional office space, officials said.
The required age to join the senior center is 50.
Elsewhere, a dedicated building for seniors, the Lowcountry Senior Center, has been around for 10 years on Riverland Drive on James Island. The city of Charleston owns the building, which houses a nationally accredited program managed by a local hospital. Memberships start at $50 for the center, which includes a fitness room with exercise equipment and computers.
The city of North Charleston offers senior services at its community centers and is exploring a dedicated building for senior services, said spokesman Ryan Johnson.
“The mayor does want to establish a dedicated senior center. He mentioned that in his State of the City address,” Johnson said.