A programing plan for Johnson City’s new Memorial Park Community Center reveals seniors will actually be getting a pretty good deal when compared to their current location and situation — a spot some seniors have said they’d rather stay at rather than move into their new digs.
Both the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board and Senior Center Advisory Council have unanimously agreed on a plan that gives seniors 27,000 square feet of space with which to work at the 67,000-square-foot center set to open in April. That’s just more than 40 percent of the center and more than double the existing Seniors’ Center capacity of 12,000 square feet.
The new center’s hours of operations will be Monday through Saturday from 7 a.m. until 9 p.m. It will be closed on Sunday. Within that time frame there are 1,260 hours of scheduling available throughout the entire center. Of that, 260 hours have been set aside for parks and recreation use and 475 hours have been marked for senior use. That means seniors’ programing amounts to 64.6 percent of all use in the center with parks and recreation scheduling consuming 35.3 percent. Still, 525 hours remain open for future programing.
There also have been concerns an “outside” person brought in by City Manager Pete Peterson to oversee the center would not have the required knowledge of what area seniors wanted. And since last year before the first shovel hit the dirt, seniors, particularly members of the Save Our Senior Committee, have demonstrated on the Municipal & Safety Buildings front steps in protest of the City Commission’s decision to go forward with the new center and for not building a stand-alone senior center. There also has been concerns the current staff would be dissolved.
“People need to get this in their minds — they need to know I’m picking up the existing Seniors’ Center, the staff, programming, activities — and setting it all down in the new community center,” said Roger Blakeley, the new Parks and Recreation Department director appointed by Peterson in late October.
Blakeley said he noticed the protesters when he first came on and decided to invite them to his office.
“They gave me a list of requests,” he said. “As I looked at them, none of them were out of line. But I realized there needed to be a way to illustrate the plan visually. So I color-coded the center, presented the plan to both advisory boards, and both unanimously accepted.”
Next, the City Commission will have an opportunity to review the plan. Commissioners may request a few adjustments, or they may simply give the plan their blessing.
The overall plan is very detailed and includes what activities will take place in what room and by which group.
“I’ve given them (seniors) as much as I can in a multi-generational facility,” he said. “From now on it’s about scheduling. The Seniors’ Center staff has come together and had many meetings about how to have a seamless transition. We’re bringing all the senior activities over in the same capacity, and we have the capacity to grow. As we see more baby boomers start to retire, we’ll need that.”
The new community center — the entire center — is theirs to enjoy. But scheduling of senior activities, as well as all activities is important. So far it appears the plan has not ruffled any feathers.
“We endorsed the schedule, and I think it’s very workable,” said Gary Lyon, Senior Center Advisory Council president-elect. “I think Roger Blakeley is going to be a breath of fresh air when it comes to dealing with seniors.”
Jerry Paulsen, SOC chairman, said his take on the plan was “very positive.”
“Gary Cameron (SOC member) and I met with Roger Blakeley, and he told us he couldn’t promise us anything,” Paulsen said. “We had a real pleasant meeting. He welcomed Gary and I and he was cordial and to the point. I think Roger understands there needs to be a dedicated space for seniors, but we do feel it’s a good plan.”
The plan confirms what has been known all along: the area from the main entrance with the drive-up or drop-off point at the corner of Bert Street and what used to be Lonnie Lowe Way and all the classrooms, offices, arts and crafts and other spaces on the north side of the building have been marked for senior use.
“The wing is a senior wing, no matter what you want to call it,” Blakeley said.
From that entry way heading the opposite direction, seniors can access the corridor that leads to the dining room, gymnasium, billiards and games room (exclusively for senior use), fitness room, changing rooms and kitchen.
Seniors will not have exclusive access to the gymnasium. In fact, the Parks and Recreation Department will be responsible for programming one side, which is configured as a complete gym, while Senior Services will be responsible for programing the other side. But depending on scheduling, the entire space can be divided for various uses.
Seniors also will have access to the natatorium, or aquatics area, but this too will revolve around scheduling. Seniors do not have to use the entrance nearest their scheduled or unscheduled activities. They can also access the second entrance and foyer which faces the parking lot on the east side of the center.
“I’m extremely proud of the work by both the parks and recreation and seniors staff,” said Charlie Stahl, assistant city manager. “I think they’ve worked together with the goal of keeping the interests of everyone in mind. The plan may require may require a little tweaking once the center is opened, and it should remain flexible.”