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Lynn Haven Opens Senior Center Two Years After Hurricane Michael

The senior center is the first major city-owned building to come back online since the Category 5 storm made landfall less than 30 miles away.

Lynn Haven’s older residents again have a space to get together for coffee, cards and conversation — more than two years after Hurricane Michael.

The city's renovated senior center, located at 905 Pennsylvania Ave., includes a media lab, fully-equipped kitchen, dining area, an arts and crafts room and an auditorium, where city commission meetings will take place until City Hall is rebuilt.

Commissioner Brandon Aldridge was among local leaders, including City Manager Vickie Gainer and members of the Lynn Haven Senior Activity Club, at a ribbon cutting ceremony on Tuesday. Afterward, he says, they toured the new center and enjoyed refreshments.

“The excitement in the seniors, in their voices, in their eyes [and] the thankfulness that they had for us rebuilding the senior center so quickly for them was just great to see,” he said. “It warmed my heart.”

It’s been more than two years since city residents 55 and older have had a dedicated place to socialize. As reconstruction efforts continue, the senior center is the first major city-owned building to come back online.

Construction hasn’t yet begun on several other city-owned properties - including the police station, City Hall and the sports complex. Aldridge says he expects the city will break ground on those projects sometime in 2021.

A smaller community gathering spot - the Garden Club building - reopened earlier this year. Last month, the Cain Griffin Park reopened. “We’re on the path to more buildings being rebuilt,” Aldridge said. “This is just the start.”

Aldridge says the commission has prioritized parks and community centers for reconstruction because residents use those facilities most.

Valerie Crowder
Masks are required in the Lynn Haven senior center - which primarily serves residents 55 and older.

Activities at the new senior center there will look slightly different during the pandemic with mask-wearing and social distancing required indoors.

Because the senior activity club is a private, non-profit organization, its five-member board has the flexibility to require people to follow COVID-19 safety guidelines inside the public space, despite Gov. Ron DeSantis’s recent executive order barring local governments from enforcing such policies.

“They have the freedom to exercise whatever precautions that they feel are necessary,” said Evgeniya Stetsenko, the city’s marketing and communications director. She says every senior club member at the center’s grand opening event was wearing a mask.

And signs posted on the center’s doors state that masks are mandatory.

The senior club had been meeting at the city’s Garden Club building after it reopened earlier this year. But Stetsenko says the group quickly ended their activities when the pandemic hit.

“They did bingo there, chair aerobics and line dancing,” she said. “It was their decision to pause it.”

Several older residents have told her they feel safer socializing inside the new center because every room is isolated - unlike their previous meeting sites - making it easier to practice social distancing, Stetsenko said. Four separate air conditioning units will help keep aerosols from circulating throughout the entire building.

Any city resident 55 and older can join the club and participate in its activities.

Next week, the group will begin meeting for coffee, cards and conversation at the new center, which is open between 9 a.m. — 3 p.m. every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

Valerie Crowder hosts and produces state and local newscasts during All Things Considered. Her reporting on local government and politics has received state and regional award recognition. She has also contributed stories to NPR newscasts.