SOUTH HAVEN – Over the past year, all seven activity centers operated by Senor Services in Van Buren County have remained closed due to health restrictions associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. But that hasn’t stopped the nonprofit’s board and staff from taking on the ambitious task of creating a new activity center slated to open later this year in South Haven.
Senior services staff, board members and community leaders participated in an indoor groundbreaking ceremony Thursday to begin a $2.5 million renovation of the former Village Market grocery store in a new activity center. The renovated facility will replace the current First Baptist Church 76th Street Seniors Center.
When renovations to the 47,000 square foot building at 08337 M-140 Highway are complete, it will house the Elder Services central offices, pickleball courts, kitchen, cafe, workshop, auditorium, meeting room, arts and crafts area, a dance and exercise area, five classrooms, an indoor walking path and an expansive loan closet for medical equipment and dry food storage, according to senior services general manager Diane Rigozzi.
The building will also include space that can be leased to other businesses. Currently, the Moore Pharmacy occupies one corner of the building. Rigozzi said Senior Services was also negotiating with several other companies to move into the facility.
“Right now we’re in serious talks with a salon owner and a dance instructor,” she said. “There are two other office suites that could potentially be rented out.”
Originally, the senior services board and staff estimated that the renovations would cost $1 million or more, but they weren’t shocked when they found out the cost would be $2. $5 million.
“I wasn’t totally surprised by the number because I think we knew the initial estimates – before the plans were fully drawn up – were low,” Rigozzi said. “That, with COVID pushing timber prices so high, we felt was a pretty accurate number.”
Three contractors bid for the project. The lowest bid came from CL Construction of Holland.
“We checked multiple references and all said it arrived on time and on budget,” Rigozzi said. “No one from South Haven submitted a bid.”
CL Construction hopes to complete the renovations by October or November.
Although the new South Haven Activity Center is the largest in Van Buren County overseen by Senior Services, it will not affect operations at the other centers, located in Bangor, Columbia Township, Decatur, Gobles, Hartford and Paw Paw.
“As excited as we are about this project, it will not take away from other activity centers or services in the county. It’s just a wonderful addition that can be used by anyone over 60 in a tax jurisdiction,” Rigozzi said.
To pay for the project, Senior Services contracted with a fund development company that works with nonprofits, according to Rigozzi. “They oversee marketing, grant development, etc.,” she said. “We have several key community volunteers and staff who will be involved.”
In the meantime, Senior Services secured a loan from Sturgis Bank and Trust to finance the project. “They made it clear that they wanted to contribute to this investment in our community,” Rigozzi said. “We hope to repay this loan through fundraising efforts over a two to three year period.”
Senior Services acquired the former Village Market grocery store building in 2019 from owner Murk Management.
“The building was almost entirely donated and valued at $2.5 million,” Rigozzi said. “Senior Services paid $400,000 for the building, donating over $2 million.”