Construction is now under way on a new and long-awaited senior center in Hermiston to be known as the Harkenrider Center.

Ground was broken in a ceremony last Wednesday for the new center. The Hermiston Senior Center board and city haven’t always seen eye to eye on design and future use of the building. It will be the exclusive home of the senior center for its first five years and in 2022 will expand to some community use in the evenings. But Kathy English, a prep cook for the center’s twice-a-week meals for seniors, said there was a lot to look forward to about the new building.

“I actually think it’s going to be wonderful,” she said. “It’s going to be bigger and better for us.”

Mayor David Drotzmann called the groundbreaking a “historic event” taking place amid major changes to Hermiston. Those changes include a new trade and event center being built south of town and the sale of the former Umatilla County Fairgrounds, where the current senior center sits, to Hermiston School District.

“There is a lot of change going on, but this community does as it always does and rallies around a cause,” he said.

Drotzmann said the Harkenrider Center wouldn’t be possible without collaboration from a number of entities, including the “guidance and leadership” of the senior center board, a 50-year lease of the site from Hermiston School District, a $2 million Community Development Block Grant from the federal government and $750,000 from the city of Hermiston.

Frank Harkenrider, whose name the center will bear, was front and center at the proceedings, pumping his fist and yelling “Yay!” when he reached the row of ceremonial golden shovels lined up for a photo op.

Drotzmann said the city felt it appropriate to name the center after Harkenrider in recognition of the 50 years of time he put in as a Hermiston city council member and mayor.

“That’s 50 years of public service to the community,” he said.

The building will include a large gathering space, two breakout rooms, office, restrooms, a kitchen, balcony, elevator and unfinished basement. A landscaped parking area will stretch across where Ridgeway Avenue curves into Northeast Second Street and into the current parking lot behind Hermiston Public Library.

To celebrate the occasion the senior center board arrived via limousine. Board member Virginia Beebe said she arranged the treat as a surprise for the group after the hard work they have put in on the project.

Beebe said right now her biggest hope for the new senior center is for the city to “build it as fast as they can.”

The building isn’t expected to be ready until late 2017 or early 2018, she said, but the seniors will have to leave their current building in May to make way for the school district’s demolition of the buildings on the fairgrounds.

In the interim, Our Lady of Angels Catholic Parish at 565 W Hermiston Ave. has offered up space for the senior center to continue to serve meals to seniors starting May 16.

“It’s a different kitchen, but it’s a doable kitchen,” Beebe said.

Karen Blair, the senior center’s cook, said the site of the Harkenrider Center is the former site of Armand Larive Middle School, where she attended seventh and eighth grade.

“It’s kind of full circle,” she said. “It’s just kind of crazy, so much has changed. But this is home, and to help out with the seniors, it’s a blessing for me.”

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Contact Jade McDowell at jmcdowell@eastoregonian.com or 541-564-4536.

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