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Avenidas breaks ground on renovation project

After years of planning and negotiations, expansion is finally set to begin

Palo Alto Mayor Greg Scharff and Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian, center, and others break ground for the new Avenidas senior services center on Sept. 7, 2017. Photo by Veronica Weber.

Around 50 people gathered in the courtyard outside Avenidas on Thursday evening for the much-anticipated groundbreaking of the nonprofit senior center's $18-million expansion project, which will add 7,158 square feet to its site at 450 Bryant St. in downtown Palo Alto.

Amy Andonian, Avenidas president and CEO, said she was "very excited" about the long-awaited groundbreaking, which took 10 years to happen due in part to financial struggles following the 2008 recession that put the plan on hold.

"(Avenidas) never lost sight," Andonian said.

When completed, the expansion will connect the center's historic two-story Birge Clark building to an adjacent three-story building to create a space that will enable Avenidas to grow its existing programs as well as develop new ones, including a new cafe, wellness center and technology center, setting the national standard for what Andonian said "a senior center should be."

The site, with yellow caution tape, exposed dirt and vacant rooms, looked like a construction zone already as crews got to work on the project. The center's activities have moved to Cubberley Community Center at 4000 Middlefield Road for the duration of the two-year project, and the longtime lunch program La Comida has found a new site at Stevenson House at 455 E. Charleston Road.

Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian called Avenidas a haven that "caters to seniors of all types." At Avenidas, a building is more than a building -- it fosters a sense of community, Simitian added.

Seniors Sally Dudley and Chuck Sieloff, who met 45 years ago while working at Hewlett-Packard, said Avenidas has served as a social center and valuable resource for them. For Dudley, the center's knitting classes provide her a place to knit, sit and chat with people. Sieloff said Avenidas' all-day tech workshop has helped him master new tech gadgets to assist his wife, and its handyman services have helped him with tasks around his home.

Jim Phillips, chair of Avenidas' board of directors, told those gathered at the groundbreaking that the project had long been his "pleasure and stress," but that at this point, was "on a roll and unstoppable."

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