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Gainesville public housing seniors excited about planned center
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Maria Bristow talks Tuesday from her Tower Heights porch. Residents are looking forward to a new community center planned in the building. - photo by NAT GURLEY

Bingo was the top game residents of the Tower Heights public housing apartments wanted to see at the planned community center in the building recently vacated by a nonprofit adult day care facility.

Judith Escamilla, executive director of the Gainesville Housing Authority, said architects are drafting modifications for the center, which is expected to serve senior and disabled residents. Housing Authority staff are conducting interviews with residents to pinpoint what they want at the site, she said.

“Primarily, the center will be a meeting place for this community, as well as offering various classes, workshops and entertainment, such as church and local singing groups,” Escamilla said in an emailed response about the center.

The Guest House, the adult care center, moved in May after it was evicted by the authority. The nonprofit, which had occupied the building for the past 20 years, had been unable to renegotiate its lease since the old one expired in 2005. It had occupied the space rent-free.

“That’s what we need up here, something to do for the older people instead of sitting here (wondering) ‘What are we going to do,’” said Tower Heights resident Maria Bristow.

Bristow said the nearby location makes it particularly attractive. She said many residents go to the Gainesville Senior Life Center on Prior Street, but some don’t have cars or get around easily.

“I would go, as close as this is,” Bristow said.

Margaret Parham, 67, has lived in the neighborhood for about 15 years and said she would like a community center in the vacant building. She has arthritis in her hip and legs and would be in favor of an activity that doesn’t involve a lot of bending or walking. She said she likes the idea of playing bingo, if it includes a prize for the winner.

“Got to have somebody to play with,” Parham said. “I think that would be nice.”

She said she’d also like to pay rent or sign paperwork at the community center rather than having to go to the authority building on Pearl Nix Parkway because it would be more convenient.

“This would be great for the older people (who have) bad health and then (having) to hire somebody to get over there, whether it’s a taxi or a friend,” Parham said. “The (price) of gas is so high, they’re not going to take you anywhere for nothing.”

Also interested in playing a little bingo is resident Nancy Wilson, who will turn 73 in September. She’s lived in the community for about five years and said the plan sounds good. She’s a homebody, puttering around her yard watering her pink flowers, but would like to do more socializing if it was close by.

“I get a little stir crazy (from staying inside) from time-to-time and if I don’t get out in my little car. Then if it’s cool enough, it’s nice to be outside. But it sounds good.”

The authority will start refocusing on the community center once summer camps are over, Escamilla said.

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