AUGUSTA — Longtime residents of Arch Beta apartments have dreamed for more than a decade of having their own community center where all 100-plus residents could gather for potluck dinners, movies and socializing.

They’ve been stymied by a lack of money to make that happen. They figured a makeshift recreation center that had been built in a converted garage was about the best they’d get.

On Tuesday, they finally got an upgrade with the opening of the new 5,500-square-foot resident center with its own fully equipped kitchen, an expansive main community room, library, arts and crafts room, and an outdoor patio where residents will be able to gather for cookouts or just chat with neighbors.

“Wow, we’ve wanted this a long time,” said Fran Wood, an 11-year resident of the Augusta senior housing complex and chairwoman of the resident committee. “We prayed we someday would have more than that little shack over there. We couldn’t fit any more than 20 or 25 people in the other place. There is so much more we’ll be able to do here.

“Sometimes I thought I’d never live to see it.”

David Bustin, a former president of the board, said the apartment complex was first built in 1974 by nine area churches that saw a need for affordable senior housing in the area.

“Now another group of people worked hard to bring this beautiful building here,” Bustin said. “It’s a comfortable, convenient center that will make the lives a bit easier for these residents.”

Walter Moody, president of the Arch Beta board of directors, said building such a center for the 110 residents has been a longtime goal of the board and residents, but previous management companies and the board couldn’t get the money together. He and other officials credited the arrival eight years ago of Boston-based Barkan Management Co., the property manager, for putting together a proposal that resulted in the $1.3 million building getting built.

“In my 20 years on the board, people always talked about doing something like this, but it always seemed out of reach,” said Harmon Harvey, a former president of the board. “The board was frustrated, trying to stitch a silk purse together from a sow’s ear” because of a lack of financial resources to build.

Laurie Bourgeois, senior property manager for Barkan Management, which also manages Cotton Mill apartments in Hallowell, said the group financed the cost of the project over 20 years with TD Bank, and the property also is subsidized by the federal Housing and Urban Development Department.

People 62 or older, or who have a disability, are eligible to apply to live in the complex. Residents pay 30 percent of their income as rent, which includes most utilities, while federal subsidies cover the rest, according to Bourgeois.

Bourgeois acknowledged investing in the resident center isn’t likely to improve the company’s bottom line directly, though it could make the facility more attractive to potential tenants.

The real motivation for the project, he said, was to give the current residents a better place where they can socialize.

“Our main reason was to give them a nice place where all the residents could get together and make Arch Beta a more enjoyable place to live,” he said.

Virginia Ratay, a 13-year resident of Arch Beta and vice president of the resident committee, noted that the old, garage-based recreation center didn’t have a kitchen and could hold only about one-fourth of the residents of the complex at the same time. She said the new resident center will be much better for potluck dinners and other group events.

“I love it. I think it’s really wonderful,” she said.

The new building, on Gray Birch Drive, easily can accommodate all residents at the same time. Many turned out, despite the cold weather, for Tuesday’s grand opening. The building has a large video screen and projector that can be used to show movies, and the space can be used for weekly bingo nights. It also has wi-fi, comfortable chairs, modern tables and new wooden floors.

Black Diamond Consultants was the general contractor, architect and designer of the project.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj


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