County gets planning grant to study Bigfork Community Center

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The Bigfork Community Center, formerly known as the Bigfork Senior Center, will be the focus of a study to determine the most economical and long-term solution to improve the facility. (Mackenzie Reiss/Daily Inter Lake)

The Bigfork Community Center will be the subject of an architectural study that will look at options to either rebuild or relocate the center, thanks to a $45,000 Community Development Block Grant from the Montana Department of Commerce.

The planning grant will pay for an architect to evaluate potential next steps for the center and associated costs to help Flathead County determine the most economical and long-term solution to improve the facility.

Current issues include a lack of compliance with federal Americans with Disabilities Act standards, a roof that needs to be replaced and outdated plumping and electrical work. The layout of the building, which was formerly a residence, isn’t an ideal fit for a senior center, either — most of the county’s other senior centers have large, open spaces that better accommodate gatherings, Flathead County Grant Coordinator Whitney Aschenwald said.

“It really is just not laid out in a manner that is really ideal for senior center operations. It was an old house and is segmented up into smaller rooms,” she said. “Parking is very limited — a lot of times there’s people parking down along the road and they are having to walk up the hill. For seniors, particularly in the winter, that can be a problem.”

The county had plans to address the inadequacies of the Bigfork Community Center, formerly known as Bigfork Senior Center, in September 2015 when the county received $400,000 in public facilities grant money from the Department of Commerce. The intention was to make improvements to multiple senior centers throughout the county in one fell swoop, but estimates for the Bigfork center came in at roughly twice what they had budgeted, Aschenwald said.

“We went forward with Whitefish, Columbia Falls and Kalispell, and since then have been working to do a separate project just for the Bigfork Senior Center,” Aschenwald said.

The architectural study will be a step in the right direction, examining potential options such as constructing a new building at the current site, building elsewhere or remodeling and existing structure. Aschenwald said during the 2015 grant process the county found it would cost more to make repairs to the current building than to build or renovate another facility.

She estimates that the architectural study will begin this spring.

“If there is a solution identified, and the seniors and the county want to move forward, we would pursue another public facilities grant,” Aschenwald said.

The Bigfork Community Center is the hub for the Bigfork Meals on Wheels program, offers hot lunch three days a week and numerous classes and opportunities for socializing such as tai chi, a monthly potluck and a Monday morning knitting group.

Reporter Mackenzie Reiss may be reached at 758-4433 or mreiss@dailyinterlake.com.

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