NBH Senior Center renovation project nearing an end

By David Peck

What started out as a heating and ventilation project has turned into a nearly complete interior renovation at the North Big Horn Senior Center building, and with the project nearing completion, it is more important than ever for local citizens to support the mill levy that provides local funding to support transportation, meal programs and more at the center, Director Julie Durham said.

“Two years ago we started planning an HVAC project, a complete replacement project,” Durham said. “The old boiler was pieced together with pieces that didn’t even belong to it to keep it running. Water was dripping from the ceiling in spots. The boiler was installed in 1979 when the building was constructed, and the hot water tank was 30 years old. Everything on the ceiling had to come out.”

As the project began, more issues were found.

“In preparation for the HVAC system, we needed to kind of clear things out and move out. As we were doing that, we found flaking and problems in the wall of the quilting room, the other side of the kitchen wall,” Durham said. “They cut a hole to see what the problem was, and it got bigger and bigger. They found black mold all the way to the ceiling.”

Water had soaked into the flooring and the wall, as well. The result was the need for a “complete and total repair from top to bottom,” Durham said, adding, “We replaced the wall with a better product, bought a new dishwasher, replumbed everything and put in spray-in foam insulation on the back wall.

“We had no intention of doing all of that. It had to be repaired completely.”

Big Horn County owns the building and hired West Plains Engineering to work on the specs and planning of the HVAC project, Durham said.

As work began, West Plains found black mastic containing asbestos under the carpet, and the engineer recommended an abatement project to the county, which the commissioners agreed to, Durham said.

“We had to be out of the building for a week, and they completely stripped the floor,” she said.

Things got even more interesting. The only bid for the HVAC project came in at $265,000, Durham said, about $105,000 more than expected based on a similar project at the South Big Horn County Senior Center in Greybull about five years ago.

“Everybody’s jaw dropped. We weren’t expecting that,” Durham said.

COVID-19 hits

Both a blessing and a curse was the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic, which happened just about the time the project began.

“We had time to do some of the things we needed to do,” Durham said. “We had time to do the kitchen and around the first of June the school district started lending us the elementary school kitchen so people could pick up curbside meals. Rosie Rusch (lunchroom manager) was great to work with.”

The HVAC project was put on hold while the kitchen and other work progressed. In the meantime County Maintenance Director Jeremy Pouska started searching for a heating and air conditioning firm that would perform the HVAC project for a lower cost. The county ended up engaging Big Horn Heating and Cooling of Cody and Worland, who agreed to do the project for a bid of $193,000 with a total HVAC project cost, including engineering, at $210,000. Under the original estimate of $160,000, the county was going to pay about $100,000 of the project and the senior district $60,000, and with the new bid, both entities agreed to increase their contribution: $121,600 from the county and $88,400 from the district.

In the meantime the center received a Daniels Fund grant in the amount of $100,000, which means the senior citizens district won’t have to pull the $88,400 out of reserves.

“That (grant) was a huge blessing, very much needed,” Durham said.

But then there’s the rest of the building – the kitchen, carpeting, ceiling tiles and more, which Durham is estimated to cost another $80,000 to $90,000. The remainder of the Daniels Fund grant will help, and the rest will come from reserves and the current money available in the senior district budget.

Currently, Big Horn Heating and Cooling is working side by side with Durham Construction of Cody, which is performing the “non-HVAC” work. All of the offices have been cleared, and new carpet is to be laid in the coming days. Durham said she hopes the staff can be back in their offices next week.

The center itself has been closed for in-house programming since COVID-19 hit on March 16, and Durham said she’s not sure when the center can open again for full operations, which will happen when state health orders reach Phase III (currently at Phase II).

Once the building is finished, Public Health will perform a walk-through, Durham said, to see what protective measures need to be taken to re-open the center.

“That will determine when we open and how we open,” she said.

Amazingly, the timing has worked out perfectly, Durham said, resulting in no missed serving days for center meals or Meals on Wheels. When COVID-19 hit, the kitchen staff served meals curbside at the center, and by the time the kitchen project began, meals were served at the elementary school, from June 1 through August 14. Since then, the curbside meals have been served at the center again.

Mill levy vote

With everything that’s going on, from meals and senior center activities to finishing the renovation project, the 1 mill levy that will be on the general election ballot for renewal on Nov. 3 is more important than ever, Durham said.

“It’s the most important thing (funding source) for our center,” she said, noting that the center does receive some federal grant money from the U.S. Dept. of Health and Aging, along with WyDOT money for the center’s transportation program, which has also continued during construction.

Also on the ballot will be three trustees of the senior citizens district: Mary Joy, Rosanna Rusch and Gene Spragg.

Durham said she can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

“My anticipation to be completely done is November 15,” she said. “I would like to do an open house or something for Thanksgiving. That’s a hopeful thought.”

She expressed appreciation to the county for working with and supporting the center and the senior service district.

“They let us use this building, and we need to take care of it,” she said.

She also thanked the many senior citizens “who have waited patiently through COVID-19 and through this building process and have been faithful coming for curbside meals.”