On Tuesday afternoon -- just a day after the opening of the new Darien Senior Activities Center -- the cafeteria was filled with seniors eating their lunch before heading to a program about women's work in World War II.
"Some people will remember the time," author John Cilio told the seniors during Tuesday's program. "Some people will remember it from their parents."
Cilio was one of the first speakers in the new Mather Center, which opened Monday. During the day, the Mather Community Center, 2 Renshaw Road, is used as the senior center from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. In the evening the Mather Center transforms into the community center.
Just minutes before Cilio's program began, many of the seniors were eating their lunch in the cafeteria on the first floor of the center. Pork cutlet and noodles were on the menu.
At one of the round tables were Darien siblings Shirley Hanks, Betty Richter and Charles Scribner. They had finished lunch and were talking with each other before attending the World War II lecture program.
"It's so cheerful in here," Richter said.
The new center, in contrast to the 30 Edgerton St. location, has high ceilings with floor-to-ceiling windows that allow light to flood the space. The walls are bright white with pops of color. The center has multiple classrooms, a computer lab, a small cafe, a woodworking shop and multiple fitness classrooms.
"It's really a far cry from what we ever had," Hanks said about the former location.
Hanks and Richter have a particular attachment to 30 Edgerton St. -- they attended elementary school there.
Scribner, the eldest of the siblings, attended high school at the Town Hall before it was converted to the town's municipal center.
After a two-week hiatus, while the move from 30 Edgerton St. to 2 Renshaw Road was completed, the seniors returned to the new center in full force.
On Monday, more than 187 people went to the center and 83 lunches were served, according to Beth Paris, the senior center coordinator.
"Many of the comments are extremely positive," Paris said. "Folks are getting used to where things are."
Linda Fritsch, who was eating dessert as she sat with Paris in the lunch room, said the new center is "fabulously beautiful."
The relocation of the center to Mather was part of the $7 million "shuffle" project, which included closing the senior center on Edgerton Street and opening the community center in Town Hall, where the Board of Education was once located. The Board of Education is now at the former library building at 35 Leroy Ave.
The project, which was approved in 2010, is expected to be $500,000 over budget, according to reports from Dave Campbell, former selectman and current building committee chairman, at an April Board of Selectmen meeting.
The Mather center was slated to open in October, but the combination of a contractor change and frigid winter weather caused delays.
"The facility is beautiful, clean and is nice and bright," Fritsch said, adding that she commended the staff on the work it did during the transition from one building to another.
Cordelia Ursone said the space was "lovely." One of the first spaces she looked at on Monday was the library, where her weekly current events class takes place.
"This was a really hard project," Nielsen said. "Hard work pays off sometimes and you can see that here (at the center.)"
First Selectman Jayme Stevenson was not able to be at the soft opening of the center because she is traveling, though she had flower arrangements delivered.
Paris said Stevenson was "with them in spirit."
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