Ray Fontaine doesn’t want to put a “coming soon” sign out just yet.
He’s not even comfortable suggesting a possible groundbreaking date. Three years after the Horry County Council on Aging announced it would build a larger home for the Carolina Forest Senior Center, the project remains in the planning stage.
“I’ve got to make sure all the Ts are crossed,” said Fontaine, the council’s executive director.
Officials with the nonprofit are trying to meet all the requirements for a U.S. Department of Agriculture loan to finance the building. Fontaine said about half of the questions in the loan program have been answered, but the process hasn’t been simple. Despite the challenges, he remains optimistic.
“I’m feeling really good that it’s going to happen,” he said. “I have for a long time.”
The planned 5,000-square-foot center has presented numerous hurdles for the nonprofit since county council agreed to allow it to build near Carolina Forest’s library and recreation center.
Carolina Forest’s current senior center is a small rented annex at a Gateway Drive shopping center. Council on Aging leaders insist the center’s membership has outgrown the rental property and the seniors need a larger space, particularly when the snowbirds flock to Carolina Forest in the winter.
Initially, Fontaine’s office thought the project would cost $500,000-$600,000. But the first architect hired by the group provided a plan that cost about $1.1 million. Leaders said that wouldn’t work, so they opted to use another architect with the hope the price would come down. They reduced the original plans for the building by about 600 square feet.
“This isn’t going to be a gigantic place,” Fontaine said. We couldn’t find the money for that.”
Council on Aging officials have sought about $750,000 in grants and loans, but there have been unexpected expenses with the project.
Fontaine also said he mistakenly thought the nonprofit could avoid obtaining environmental studies for the project because there are other public buildings beside the proposed site. However, that was not the case.
“That was a setback,” he said.
The Council on Aging has built two other senior centers, but never with a USDA loan.
“I really haven’t had this experience before,” he said.
On top of those struggles, the Council on Aging’s headquarters flooded after Hurricane Florence last year. They moved, but dealing with the flood meant less focus on a Carolina Forest center.
“It’s kind of a whirlwind of things,” Fontaine said.
Last month, Fontaine told Horry County Council’s administration committee that he hoped the building process would get underway within a year, but he remained unsure of an exact date.
“It's been a very, very slow and tedious process,” he said.
During that meeting, county councilman Johnny Vaught praised the nonprofit’s efforts.
“I’ve seen firsthand a lot of what you guys do,” he said. “And it’s awesome services."