Margert Gets $500,000 To Build New Senior Center
The current senior center at St. Gertrude the Great is barely big enough to hold the tables and those who attend it three days each week. That is just one of the reasons that clients at the center were thrilled when Councilman James Sanders Jr. showed up with a check for half a million dollars last week.
Sanders presented the check to Joseph Barden, the executive director of Margert Community Corporation and members of the board of the Tessie Learning Center for repairs to the gymnasium next door.
"When the Department For The Aging [DFTA] said the gym was no place for it [the senior center], you stayed together and created a community," Sanders told the seniors on October 3.
"There is a clear need for these services in the Rockaways. We are becoming an aging community here. We need centers for our use."
Barden told The Wave the $500,000 would go toward turning the gym into an expanded senior center.
Margert will apply to sponsor the center once the renovation is completed.
Further down the road, Barden said he envisions a place where young people can take part in sports.
"We'd like to restore it to its original condition, and maybe have the opportunity to have sports and basketball for local kids," continued Margert's executive director.
The gym was built in 1961. Barden believes the floor began to sink sometime within the first 10 years after being laid down. Margert is using the gym now for its Home Repair and Training Program, but the goal is to return it to the way it once was.
Barden is not sure how far the $500,000 will go.
"The estimate for the floor four years ago was $200,000 plus," explained Barden. "We want to do the windows, the interior and exterior doors, the roof, the envelope of the building and return it to a usable facility. I'm hopeful we can do the bathrooms and kitchen, but I don't know how far it will go."
"If you need more money, I am going to try to find more money," said Sanders, who added he was already working on obtaining extra funds for the project.
Hank Otero, a center board member, remembers when a senior center used to occupy the gym.
"At the time the city wanted to close it because of finances and Catholic Charities wanted to move, so it made it easy to close," said Otero.
DFTA will oversee the renovation of the gym.
"DFTA would prefer to manage construction even though we have a long record," Barden explained. "We have to run all plans past them."
Sanders talked about the importance of the center to the church and its late pastor, Father Brian Downing, who passed away in July.
"The senior center fits in with the mission of St. Gertrude's and was an important part of the mission of Father Brian Downing," said Sanders after the presentation of the check. "We're looking at the work like a legacy to him. It's an added incentive to get it done."