WILBRAHAM — Next week, for the first time in decades, older residents of Wilbraham will be able to walk into a space that is dedicated to their enjoyment and helping them live their best lives as they age.

For the past 20 years, Wilbraham has been leasing 3,800 square feet of space at the Scantic Valley YMCA for use by the Senior Center and Veterans Services. The programs and services offered to older residents have been largely dependent on available space and whether rooms were in use by the YMCA.

After years of controversy surrounding the location and cost of the new building, ground was broken for the $13.46 million Senior Center on Feb. 10, 2023. On Monday, March 18, the fruits of those labors will be fully realized.

Every room in the center has windows to the outside for natural lighting. The decor consists of light wood walls and chairs upholstered in blue, reflecting the color of the building’s exterior. Instead of the fluorescent ceiling panels at the YMCA, the lighting fixtures in the new center are subtle and slightly recessed, with LEDs illuminating the rooms.

“I wanted it bright and airy,” said Director of Elder Services Paula Dubord, looking around the lobby.

When entering the building, a screen to log into My Senior Center is directly to the left, along with an open-air service counter and the offices for Dubord, Senior Services Coordinator Barbara Harrington and Director of Veteran Services Jered Sasen. The lobby features an information station with a large screen displaying events, activities and the lunch menu.

On the other side of the information station is the café, with a self-serve coffee counter and several tables that seat three or four people. Dubord said one of the most common requests was an area for people to gather and have coffee while they “hang out.” With isolation being a known issue among older Americans, spaces such as this and the adjoining lounge were a necessity.

The lounge, which shares a double-sided glass fireplace with the library, is another intimate area in which people can relax and play board games. The library, in the corner of the building, has built-in bookshelves and windows on two walls. A counter with stools provides a place to plug in and use laptops while comfortable chairs offer the chance to sit and read.

“You’ll see no real hallways,” Dubord said of the Catlin Architecture design. Instead, the lobby, café, lounge and library are a series of intimate spaces that flow into one another.

Harrington pointed to the white-on-white ceiling in the library, where beams came together in a star pattern, eliminating visual monotony. Dubord explained that the architectural detail was sound baffling to eliminate echoes and keep the sound of conversations and activities on the first floor from becoming a cacophony.

Subtle details like this are throughout the building. Dubord said the chair rails are shaped so they can be used as a handrail, room dividers have whiteboards built into them and a cushioned bench is built into the stair landing. Harrington said every detail in the creation of the center was considered and intentional.

At the rear of the first floor is the multi-purpose room. The soaring ceiling gives the space an expansive feel. Glass doors, which can be folded back to allow for an indoor-outdoor space, open onto the patio and nearby bocce court. A divider can be used to separate the cafeteria and full commercial kitchen area from the rest of the room.

Dubord explained that she personally prepared lunch meals one day per week at the old center. In a couple of months, she said, Greater Springfield Senior Services will begin providing lunch two or three days per week, working up to a five-day service. The long-term plan will see an in-house staff to cook and serve meals, but Dubord noted that that service was up to five years away.

The second floor can be reached by stairs or an elevator. The main room of the upper level is designed for more socializing, with two pool tables on one side, tables and chairs set up for card games on the other and a counter with stools between.

To the left of the stairs is an exercise room. Dubord said that the exercise equipment in the leased space at the YMCA was limited and “shoved into a corner.” The new space has several types of exercise equipment, such as treadmills, ellipticals, stationary bicycles and weightlifting machines. Free weights and a weight bench are also available. The room is the only area in the facility that costs extra to use. The membership fee is $10 for older residents and $25 for others.

Two activities rooms, including one designed for quilting, are next to the exercise room. Each activity room has dedicated storage and a sink. Across the second floor is a wellness room where people can have foot care performed or meet with legal help or a SHINE program healthcare counselor.

There are windows in the open spaces that look into the activity rooms. A window on the stair landing and another in the exercise room look down into the multi-purpose room.

“People can stand here and see what’s going on in there and say, ‘I could do that.’ It makes it more inviting to join in,” Dubord said.

“I don’t think people understand what we actually do,” Harrington said of senior centers. “They think it’s like a nursing home, with walkers everywhere, and it’s not.”

Dubord added, “We’re a fun, happening space.”

The increase in space — from 3,800 square feet to 15,000 square feet — has opened possibilities for services, activities and programs that simply were not possible in the old space.

“I really want to see a memory cafe,” said Harrington. A schedule of activities and programs is being drawn up, but Dubord said she wants the town’s older residents to share what they would like to see offered.

Parts of the building will be available to rent outside of the center’s operating hours. For example, Dubord said a room on the first floor that is designed for lectures and presentations can be used for civic organizations or joint town board meetings. Dubord said that the building was created with older people in mind but can also serve as a type of community center.

Dubord explained that the building is state-of-the art in many ways, such as the security system and cameras that are directly connected to the Police Department. She also said the building’s generator will allow the entire facility to run for “days at a time” if needed. While Minnechaug Regional High School will remain the town’s shelter in an emergency situation, she said the Senior Center can serve as a heating and cooling center during extreme weather.

“The building will fit the needs of today’s seniors and tomorrow’s seniors,” Sasen said, adding that he will one day be making use of the building and playing in video game tournaments with friends.

Dubord praised the fundraising done by the Friends of Wilbraham Seniors, which helped pay for the fixtures, furniture and equipment in the building. “The Friends started raising money when this was still a dream,” she said, referring to the 12 years it took to get the new center from idea to feasibility study to Town Meeting approval and through funding issues. “Nothing went smooth until they started to build,” she said. “We stayed within the budget.” Sasen added that the project was also delivered on time.

“I’m excited for the residents of Wilbraham,” Harrington said, standing by the elevator. “I can’t wait until March 18. I’m going to stand right here and watch their faces when they walk in and see it for the first time.”