Every Monday and Thursday, Virginia Burns scours her BINGO card for that magical line of letters and numbers.
The 92-year-old sits at a table with three other nonagenarians, each hoping to break the silence by announcing the two syllables of victory.
Over the last three years, Burns has noticed she’s had some more competition showing up to BINGO at the Carolina Forest Senior Center, a tiny annex in a Gateway Drive shopping center. That’s why she’s excited about the possibility of a new, larger center being built on Carolina Forest Boulevard.
“It would be wonderful,” Burns said. “We seem to be getting more new people every day.”
Horry County officials and the Council on Aging have begun ironing out plans for a 5,000-square-foot facility beside the recreation center on Carolina Forest Boulevard. Both groups say the center has outgrown the rental property and needs a larger space.
Although the proposal is in its fledgling stage, the county has proposed providing land for the center, with the Council on Aging spending $500,000-$600,000 to construct it. Officials went over the details at a meeting on Friday.
“It’s a great marriage,” said Horry County Councilman Johnny Vaught, who has been working on the project for about three months. “It gives seniors access to the gym and the library, which the seniors like. … Plus, we’ll be able to use the senior center if we need to for special events and that kind of thing.”
When the Council on Aging began leasing the Gateway Drive space several years ago, the agency’s leaders knew the site was only a temporary measure.
Ray Fontaine, the council’s executive director, lives in Carolina Forest and has watched the community swell into a hub of some 30,000 residents.
“It’s just booming,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of seniors that I know we’ll be able to serve if we have a facility that’s adequate to take care of those needs.”
Mary Case, the current center’s manager, said the need for a larger building is obvious, particularly in the wintertime when snowbirds descend on the community.
“This one is not big at all,” she said of the center. “We’re going to grow. There are just so many people moving down.”
Tina Gulino, 92, is one of those who migrated South. Originally from Queens, New York, she’s lived in Carolina Forest for almost nine years and drives herself to the senior center nearly every day.
And while the organization offers excursions, exercise and, of course, Bingo, the variety of the crowd is what appeals to her.
“Because we come from all over,” she said. “We come from almost every state in the USA.”
Should the plans for the new center materialize, Vaught said he’d like the see the facility constructed within a year. However, he cautioned that there are still some design hurdles, including having an architect draw up plans and finding a simple, legal way to allow the council to build on the property.
“There’s not going to be a hold-up from the county once they come up with what they want to do,” the councilman said. “Then it’s just up to them to arrange their financing.”
Fontaine said he plans to fund the center with a combination of grants and in-house funding. He pointed out that the council already spends $1,500 each month to rent the Gateway Drive site.
“It requires a lot of pieces to a puzzle,” he said of the project. “But I can say this … with the way the conversation went around the table at that meeting with the council people, I really have not felt more confident about a project.”
If the center is built, it wouldn’t be the largest in the county. The Grand Strand Senior Center is about 14,500 square feet. Conway’s is 6,800.
Burns would be content just having a little more space. She’s already a fan of the center’s work.
“We do so much,” the New York transplant said. “They keep us busy. We go places. Do things. We’re active.”
She’s a regular at the Carolina Forest center, and she has her priorities.
“I come every day,” Burns said. “But Bingo is Monday and Thursday.”
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