Rendering for new Senior Center at Belvedere Credit: Credit: Bushman Dreyfus Architects

As the Charlottesville area’s population grows, the head of one nonprofit organization wants to make sure there is enough space to provide recreational and educational opportunities for the growing number of people over the age of 50.

“We’re constantly turning people, programs and partnership opportunities away,” said Peter Thompson, executive director of the Senior Center Inc.

The Senior Center turns 56 on Valentine’s Day and is in the early stages of a fundraising campaign to build a new, $20 million facility that will allow it to triple its size.

“We have been in our Pepsi Place location for almost 25 years now,” Thompson said. “That’s a full generation and the community has grown and it has grown older.”

The Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service at the University of Virginia has projected that Albemarle’s over-65 demographic will increase to 21,617 by 2020, or about 18.7 percent of the total population. By 2040 that number will rise to 33,529, or 21.6 percent.

The number of people in Charlottesville over 65 is projected to increase to 5,367, or 11.8 percent of the population, by 2020. By 2040 that number could increase to 6,127, or 12.6 percent.

“The growth in the over-65 population has to be the most significant demographic trend taking place in Virginia and the U.S.,” said Hamilton Lombard, a research specialist at the Weldon Cooper Center.  

The UVa center is just one of the community partners the Senior Center has been working with as it moves toward what Thompson calls a “larger and transformationally different” center to meet the needs of an aging population.

The Senior Center has purchased six acres in the Belvedere neighborhood off East Rio Road to be the home for a facility that will be three times as large as the current one.

“Our No. 1 criteria in looking for land was geographic accessibility to as many people as possible from the city and county,” Thompson said. “The fact that multi-purpose and multi-generational healthy living is a core of the Belvedere neighborhoods helped, as well.”

The Senior Center hired Bushman Dreyfus Architects to develop conceptual designs for a 60,000-square-foot facility.

“We are meeting with community leaders to present our vision and raise the funds to build it,” Thompson said. “While we are well along with the design, it’s not final, so we’re also listening to the community about what might be done differently.”

Thompson said he is working with both the UVa Health System and Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital for them to have a presence in the new facility.

“Health care reform is prioritizing people to stay well in the first place rather than treating disease,” Thompson said. “Our two local health systems have a new incentive and new interest in what we’ve been doing for 56 years.”

Thompson said the building is being designed with the larger community’s needs in mind, as well. He said there is a dearth of space in Albemarle’s urban ring that can be used by other nonprofits.

“We calculate that we give about $110,000 a year of free and discounted space to the community because we are owned by the community as a nonprofit and we give meeting space and event space to all kinds of other nonprofits,” Thompson said. “Our vision for the center at Belvedere is to scale that up.”

Market research indicated that there is demand for an indoor gymnasium, a small performing arts auditorium and community meeting spaces for banquets and other private gatherings.

However, there is no timetable for when the new center might open its doors.

“We don’t have a groundbreaking scheduled because we need to generate more revenue to make that happen,” Thompson said. “There is a sense of urgency to get this done. The community demand for the type of center we have planned is already on us.”

The existing facility will be sold after the new center opens and the proceeds will go toward the capital campaign. When that will be depends on how fundraising goes.

The Senior Center will hold its Grand Gala on Feb. 27 at the Boar’s Head Pavilion. The theme this year is Havana Nights and will feature music from Big Ray and the Kool Kats.