A detailed programming schedule is now in place for the new Memorial Park Community Center.
The City Commission agreed to the plan without objection, and not a soul was present to object to any part of it — not the locations, nor the times, nor the programs set in confined increments that fill up the hours and minutes of shared use in the $15 million, 67,000-square-foot multi-generational facility.
“The seniors are going to have everything they need and everything they want — I think it’s time we put the past behind us,” said Mayor Jeff Banyas, the only commissioner to vote against the new center’s design and its construction.
Parks and Recreation Department Director Roger Blakeley, who is about one month in to his new job, gave commissioners a brief PowerPoint presentation.
“One of the things that drew me to this community was this project,” he said. “I thought the idea of a multi-generational facility was pretty cutting edge. All I did was take the plan you’ve already approved and color-coded it. We could have a huge ballroom dance one night and a basketball tournament the next. This is state-of-the-art. It’s a beautiful facility. I think people now are for the most part pretty happy.”
The center, and the programing plan, is shared by both the city’s Seniors’ Center and its Parks and Recreation Department, and both the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board and Senior Center Advisory Council have unanimously agreed on the plan, which gives seniors 27,000 square feet of space with which to work — 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. to 9 p.m. It will be closed on Sunday. Currently, there are 1,260 hours of scheduling available. Of that, nearly 65 percent has been marked for senior use; about 35 percent will be set aside for parks and recreation programing, which leaves more than 500 hours available for future use.
“I’m very pleased to see the programming work out, and I appreciate the effort that’s been put into it,” said Commissioner Ralph Van Brocklin. “I think it has the programming the serves both groups.”
Commissioner Clayton Stout asked Blakeley about how possible concerns will be addressed, including the possibility of youngsters unintentionally finding themselves in locations where senior activities are under way.
“We will have staff at these locations when we know people are going to be there,” Blakeley said. “You won’t walk into a dance class if you’re not supposed to be there.”
Stout asked about security.
Blakeley said security cameras will be rolling and a police safety station will be placed in the building. He also said most programming for younger individuals will be later in the afternoon or at night while senior programming is set largely for daytime hours.
There’s no doubt there’s been lots of controversy over the center, especially by seniors who have felt they were promised a stand-alone center. But a lot of water has gone under the bridge.
After the countless meetings, letters, emails, editorials and protests on the steps of city hall over some seniors’ sense of betrayal by those commissioners who did not favor exclusively designating (signage included) a seniors-only space — those same protesters are now praising the roominess, the offerings and the scheduling at the new center.
Both Jerry Paulsen, Save Our Center chairman, and Gary Lyon, Senior Center Advisory Council president-elect, have called the programming plan “very positive” and “very workable.”
“The bottom line is, we didn’t change anything,” former Commissioner Marcy Walker said after a July 2010 City Commission agenda meeting at which Ron Dawson, the SOC chairman at the time, expressed his concern about seniors getting the short end of the stick.
“There was always going to be a part of this dedicated to seniors,” Walker continued. “But frankly, I think there’s been a lack of communication. I just think a lot of people haven’t listened. In my mind we didn’t make any changes. We just communicated to them what we’ve known all along.”
At the time, City Manager Pete Peterson and other commissioners told Dawson that the plan had always been to maintain the same staff currently serving seniors when the move was made to the new center. That too is in the plan.
The doors are set to swing open in April.