‘Whatever we could do for them, we did’: Hatfield’s newly renovated senior center ready for use

  • Geralyn Rodgers, director of the Hatfield Senior Center, talks about the library space and other recent renovations with Amanda Zygmont, the office assistant and librarian. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • The new entrance to the renovated Hatfield Senior Center. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Right, Glenn Zygmont take cookies dropped off by Deborah Martin at the Hatfield Senior Center for the open house Friday December 11 while left, Amanda Zygmont, the office assistant talks about the renovations to the center. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Geralyn Rodgers, the director of the Hatfield Senior Center, talks about the recent renovations to the center. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Amanda Zygmont, the office assistant and librarian at the Hatfield Senior Center, talks about the recent renovations. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Geralyn Rodgers, the director of the Hatfield Senior Center, stands at the new entrance of the renovated center. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 22, 2020

HATFIELD — As the Council on Aging gets ready to begin welcoming back senior citizens, in a limited way, to the lower level of Memorial Town Hall, the space may be unrecognizable to many after a significant refurbishment completed this fall.

On Friday, members of the public will get to see the renovated Albert E. Labbee Senior Center during an open house.

“I’m so excited,” says Director Geralyn Rodgers of being able to showcase the overhauled basement. “This is for the seniors in town.”

Rodgers said Wednesday that the in-person, 30-minute tours for up to six people at a time will run throughout the day, with breaks in between to make sure the rooms are sanitized. Each visitor, who can sign up by calling 247-9003, will get a goodie bag that includes a Highland Valley Elder Services mask, a 2021 calendar, and a cupcake from Smithsonian Cafe.

Working closely with town officials on this phase of $2.24 million in improvements to Town Hall, Rodgers said she felt it was important to make the space warmer and brighter and reduce the sterile environment. The work has included the installation of an elevator and relocation of a ramp from the side of the building to the back of the building,

“I had a vision so it’s not so institutionalized anymore,” Rodgers said.

She also prioritized the needs of Hatfield’s elders, which make up one-third of the town’s 3,300 or so residents. “Whatever we could do for them, we did,” Rodgers said.

Rodgers and Amanda Zygmont, the office and program assistant, have been back in their new offices for about three weeks, but COVID-19 precautions have kept the center closed, though some classes, like healthy bones and balance, have instructors on-site teaching their students via Zoom.

In most of the public spaces, white, brown and tan colors have been painted on the walls, and the flooring, mimicking wood, replaces aging tile. There was also an effort to bring in natural light, such as installing several windows in the wall between the dining and activity room and the main corridor.

The office formerly used by retired director Jane Betsold has been converted into a small retreat room, where SHINE counselors can meet seniors, one-on-one foot clinics can be held and individuals can read a book.

Books may come from the center’s extensive library, which has new shelves and where a large pipe against the wall is now concealed. Zygmont, who began volunteering in 2009, said about 1,500 books are available. Unlike a public library, she allows seniors to put their initials inside to indicate they have read the work.

“I’ve been around here long enough to know how much they like to read,” Zygmont said.

The renovated kitchen, 40% smaller, has a counter in the middle for preparing food. While building code prevents the center from having a stove, a microwave and heating tray are also in the kitchen.

As people in the main corridor pass by historic photos and a hutch, what Rodgers calls a memory lane for nostalgia, they will reach the bathrooms and storage closet that has medical equipment for loan.

Beginning in August 2019, as renovations got underway, the senior center relocated to Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church. There, Rodgers, did more outreach, including launching a new newsletter, and saw interest increase, with last year’s holiday party bringing out 80 seniors.

When the pandemic hit, though, she had to adjust and has slowly brought programs back and restored van service. In addition, Glenn Zygmont, a van driver, delivers meals every weekday to about 15 residents and has brought them facemasks and taken them on grocery trips.

Rodgers said eventually the hope is to get back to being open to the public daily from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., but for December and January, the public will only be able to come during appointments.

During a recent Select Board meeting, member Edward Jaworski, who helped coordinate the renovation project, said that residents will be pleased with the senior center. Select Board Chairwoman Diana Szynal agreed and also gave a plug that long term she would like to see it have its own building. In 2015, an attempt to move to the former Holy Trinity Catholic Church on Main Street failed at annual Town Meeting.

While Rodgers said that a new building is something that could mean a fitness center and other programs, for now, she hopes senior citizens will be pleasantly surprised by changes to the space that has been used for about 40 years.

“Let’s get activity in here again and let senior citizens see what it looks like,” Rodgers said.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.