Bud Theriault knows what a senior citizens center can do for a community.
Theriault, a mechanical engineer who worked 27 years in Massachusetts and Rhode Island before retiring to the Lowcountry, had a number of suggestions for the resident/government panel that hosted two recent forums regarding a proposed senior center in West Ashley.
Senior centers become the hubs of community and social life, Theriault said. They host clubs, provide activities ranging from arts and crafts to educational seminars and classes, serve luncheons, offer physical therapy and health-related services, arrange day trips and longer group outings, and provide meeting and gathering places.
One Massachusetts senior center had a pool table -- a seemingly simple touch, but one that the community's older men gathered around daily, he said.
Theriault's input will be included in data being collected by a panel of Charleston county and city officials and residents who would like to see a senior center established in West Ashley. Currently, senior services are provided at a number of separate facilities in West Ashley, but there's nothing that rivals the popular Lowcountry Senior Center on James Island or a counterpart in Mount Pleasant, planners for the new center say.
The West Ashley Senior Services Coordinating Committee was created in 2009 by residents meeting regularly with County Council member Colleen Condon and City Council member Aubry Alexander. Condon also is part of the team, and last fall asked the Berkeley-Charleston-Dorchester Council of Governments to provide figures on residents ages 50 and over in ZIP codes 29407 and 29414 in West Ashley.
Based on 2000 census figures, COG mobility manager Vonie Gilreath said the population of the two ZIP codes totals 60,176, with 17,027 of them. about 28 percent, 50 and older, she said.
Gilreath said 2010 figures likely will show increases in the West Ashley senior population, in part due to the number of independent living complexes built since 2000.
Condon said a partnership between Charleston County, the city of Charleston, St. Andrew's Parks and Playgrounds, and other agencies can create a senior center for West Ashley. She said input from seniors and emerging seniors is vital.
"This is truly meant to be a community effort, so we can decide what we want in West Ashley," she said at a May 10 forum at the new Bees Landing recreation complex.
West Ashley's Tom Witman, a senior coordinating committee member, said fundraising efforts, state and local funding and government and private grants will be needed to make the center a reality.
In addition to the many services a center could provide, "A tremendous amount of citizens in West Ashley are begging for some place to sit and talk and have coffee," Witman said.
Nadine Evans of West Ashley's Village Green subdivision said she'd like West Ashley to have something like the senior center on James Island.
"It's a wonderful facility," she said, adding, "I went there twice, but it's just too far to drive."
The Lowcountry Senior Center at 865 Riverland Drive has about 1,400 members who pay $50 per month for membership ($35 more to use the gymnasium), said Elizabeth Bernat, director of senior services for the center.
She said about 10 percent of the membership is from outside James Island, including West Ashley and as far away as Ravenel and Mount Pleasant.
The center opened eight years ago and is a partnership with Roper St. Francis Healthcare. It holds about 250 classes each month, about half of them related to health care and wellness, Bernat said.
Reach Edward C. Fennell at firstname.lastname@example.org or 937-5560.