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Displaced seniors adjust to 11-mile ride

Although a contractor has begun clearing out parts of the Lecanto senior center destroyed by a fire, area seniors shouldn't expect to walk into a renovated or new neighborhood center soon.

Everything hangs on whether the former Brown Schools building in Lecanto will be converted into a Veterans Affairs medical complex, county officials said Wednesday. They hope it will include a new home for displaced seniors who had been using the Lecanto Multi-Purpose Senior Center at 1410 S Lecanto Highway, or County Road 491, until a fire two months ago closed it indefinitely.

The county is seeking appraisals on the Brown Schools site as part of its research into buying the building for an expanded VA clinic, and County Administrator Richard Wesch said the appraisals might be available by the end of the week.

In the meantime, seniors ride county buses to the West Citrus Community Center, 8940 W Veterans Drive in Homosassa, one of the county's five senior centers and the closest one to Lecanto.

Some seniors, who use senior centers for everything from federally funded lunches to ballroom dance and computer-skills lessons, have refused to go to the Homosassa center, complaining that it's too far.

"Seniors have a hard time with change when they're used to something," said Cathy Pearson, director of Community Support Services, who oversees the centers.

But most don't mind the 11-mile drive, she said.

Larry Mitchell, senior project coordinator of the Citrus community centers, said the Homosassa building is seeing about 30 Lecanto-area seniors during meals, doubling the center's lunch crowd, and almost 40 more for activities, joining between 80 and 150 seniors already enrolled. Some activities have waiting lists that are three months long.

Yet, he said, the building, which is a remodeled Disabled American Veterans center, is not overcrowded, and staff is not overburdened. About 10 workers and volunteers from the Lecanto center have transferred to the West Citrus Community Center to pitch in.

_ Justin George can be reached at (352) 860-7309 or jgeorgesptimes.com.

Johanna Roche, 81, of Beverly Hills waits with other seniors to board a bus for the trip home from the West Citrus Community Center in Homosassa on Wednesday. Despite the distance, Roche doesn't mind. "They really go out of their way to make things nice for us," Roche said.

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