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Strang slated for facelift

The existing Frank R. Strang Senior Center on Lovell Heights Road.- Dan Barile/farragutpress
Glass and more glass is the key ingredient a Farragut architect plans to use to update a West Knox senior center next year.

Gregor Smee, a Farragut resident and architect for Cockrill Design & Planning, is the project architect for the expansion of the Frank B. Strang Senior Center in the Lovell Heights area off Kingston Pike.

“The building is a 30-year-old library,” Smee said. “Five years ago when (the county) opened the new library in Farragut, this building became the Frank Strang Senior Center.”

He added that being a library was one of the drawbacks to the site in that “it looks like a library.”

Smee noted that the aesthetics of a library are not conducive to the seniors that use the center.

“The seniors that use this center are young and vibrant for seniors,” he said. “The average age in there is 50 and 60, and they’re doing high impact aerobics. It’s not a nursing home. It’s not an old folk’s home. This is a recreation and activity center full of a lot of life and activity.”

Smee said that factor was key in influencing the preliminary designs for the building, which call for a big multi-purpose room with lots of glass.

“In a library you plan to control light,” he said. “Don’t fade the books, don’t age the books. So, there is so very little light, that building has so very little natural lighting.”

Smee said, “We want people to see what’s going on inside, and we want people inside to be able to see outside.”

Smee said the $500,000 renovation is still in its preliminary stages.

“Last Friday, we made our first stab at schematic drawings of what the building will look like and the floor plan,” he said. “We know we have to curtail some to stay in the budget, but at first you dream big, think big and then cut back a little bit. That’s where we are right now. We’re getting our first estimates and beginning to look at how we can keep it in budget.”

Smee is not a stranger to remodeling Knox County senior centers. He got his feet wet by working on the John T. O’Connor addition and renovation five years ago.

That building was “not a converted library,” he said, “we didn’t have the same issues. Although, it did need a facelift. It was tired looking. And so, it got a significant facelift.”

Smee said the Strang renovation offered many challenges to design since the building is land locked.

We’ll be “coming toward the street,” he said. “(The center) cannot afford to lose any parking. In fact, we need to get down and talk to Knox County about the fact that we’re going to have more building than we have parking, but there just isn’t any. We’re really landlocked with it. So we’re coming out forward onto the grassy spaces. The only place we can grow.”

Smee said the expansion would entail bringing either side of the center section forward, which will create a courtyard in the middle. In the back of the building, two small additions will be built, replacing two storage sheds, to accommodate storage and additional restrooms.

The existing building is about 4,500 square-feet and Smee said the plans call for an additional 2,500 to 2,800 square-feet, making the addition approximately 50 percent.

Smee said the majority of the space would be in two large multi-purpose rooms, with lots of glass.

The courtyard will be approximately 20 feet by 40 feet.

Smee said the designer in charge of the plans is Margaret Butler.

“Margaret Butler, our designer who is working on the design for the Frank Strang, designed all of the housing for the Mechanicsville Hope VI project,” he said. “They take old projects – University Homes, in this case – and tear them down, and build nice single-family and duplex residences with an urban kind of walkable neighborhood and urban design feel to it.”

Cynthia Finch, Knox County senior director of community services, said the county “allocated a half-million dollars for the expansion of the Frank Strang Center, with hopes to increase the capacity, to provide more programs and services for seniors on that end of our community.”

Finch said the key to expanding the Strang center was “this generation of seniors are more into leisure recreation, being more physically fit, having more programs and services that are mobile, and not necessarily social service” programs.

Finch said several meetings were held at the center quizzing seniors on what their needs are and what programs and services they would like to see in place at the Strang Center. She said the response told the county that the community of seniors would like to have more area to play cards, like bridge, to expand technology with more computers and a larger computer room, to have more access with evening programs, and additional restroom facilities able to accommodate more disabled and handicapped seniors.

Finch said the planned expansion would require cooperation from area business with regard to parking.

“It’s going to be tight,” she said, “our neighbors have always bee cooperative. This expansion will now allow us to offer evening programs. We want evening programs, we want to have access on weekends.”

Smee said that the plans call for ground breaking on the project to occur in January with completion of the project to be sometime in June 2004. Preliminary drawings for the project are now on display at the Frank R. Strang Senior Center, 109 Lovell Heights Road.

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