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AZTEC — San Juan County commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to accept a Community Development Block Grant that will be used to expand and renovate the Lower Valley Senior Center in Fruitland.

The $493,000 federal grant will be used to build a 432-square-foot expansion to the kitchen and install LED lighting, acoustic ceiling tiles and a new heating, ventilation and air conditioning system in the dining area.

It will also pay for asphalt in the parking lot, curb and gutter improvements, xeriscaping and a 672-square foot-expansion for a game and pool table room.

County Operations Officer Mike Stark said during Tuesday's meeting the grant required a 10 percent cash match from the county, which budgeted $50,410 to meet the requirement.

"It’s a competitive process so we ranked very high and ended up receiving the maximum you can receive for this program," Stark said.

The Community Development Block Grant program is operated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. It provides communities with resources to address community development needs, according to the department website

.Michelle Murray, senior center director, said in an interview Tuesday afternoon that the building is 47 years old and served as the first Mormon church in Fruitland.

"I’m ready for construction. We got it, now I want to just do it. I’m excited. Once construction is complete, it’ll be great," Murray said.

The center serves individuals who are 60 and older, and most who use the center residing in Fruitland, Kirtland and Waterflow as well as the Nenahnezad, Shiprock and Tsé Daa K’aan chapters.

The center is open from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and offers a place where older individuals can interact or participate in activities such as bingo, jigsaw puzzles and board games.

An average of 45 meals are served to individuals who visit the facility each day and 32 meals are delivered daily to those who may be homebound.

The center also provides frozen meals for the weekends and transportation service when needed.

Ronald Neff was ready to enjoy a bowl of red chile posole for lunch on Tuesday at the center.

Neff, 78, is a retired mine worker who travels to the facility from his home in Kirtland to socialize and announce bingo numbers during games.

“I’m retired and I like people. …We sit here at lunch time and talk about things,” he said.

He has been visiting the center for about nine years and said there have been some renovations over that time, including when the facility's carpet was replaced with hardwood flooring.

“We could use updates,” Neff said.

Those updates are now on the way. Murray said the next step will be to obtain building permits then start soliciting bids.

The estimated start date for the renovation project is mid-2016 with a completion date in 2017, Murray said.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636.

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