Among some outspoken Arlington seniors, there’s no doubt. They want a senior center just for seniors.
And they thought it was a shoo-in, they said, until they learned it is but one of three types of activities centers the city parks staff is evaluating for the City Council. The others are a multigeneration center that would include a seniors-only wing and a citywide center that would include major amenities not found at some of the city’s four existing recreation centers but no space dedicated solely for seniors.
Brian Murphy, who has lived in Arlington since the mid-1950s, called it “backpedaling.”
“We thought they were moving in that direction,” he said. “And now they’re doing feasibility studies on multigeneration centers and everything, and we’re like, ‘Hey, wait a minute.’ ”
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The city has two facilities for senior activities. One is informally called the New York Avenue Senior Center because of its location; the other is the Eunice Activity Center.
Murphy and his wife, Kim, an Arlington native, were among about 25 seniors attending a presentation last week by the park staff and its consultant, BRS Architecture, who had just finished outlining options and comparisons with other cities’ senior centers.
Parks officials insist that their direction from the council is clear: to study all options, amenities, costs and potential sites and produce sample renderings to help determine which one or more facilities should be added to the parks 10-year master plan.
“There’s been no decision made whatsoever,” said De’Onna Garner, parks planning manager. “This is a fact-finding mission only.”
Seniors and others can weigh in at two other meetings, both Wednesday. One is from 9:30 to 11 a.m. at Eunice Activity Center, 1000 Eunice St.; the other is from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at Ousley Junior High School, 950 Southeast Parkway.
The parks department also has an online survey that started Oct. 9 at www.naturallyfun.org that asks people of any age to select a type of center and all the amenities they’d like to see and whether they would vote for a new center if it wouldn’t require a property tax increase.
Officials are working on a timeline that would allow for a May election, either for bonds or a quarter-cent sales tax increase, to pay for the facilities, if the council chooses, said Parks Director Lemeul Randolph. The city also could dip into its fund of oil and natural gas royalties, which the Arlington Tomorrow Foundation uses for its grants to a wide range of community-improvement projects.
Arlington wants to be a ‘caring community’ for all of its citizens. And a world-class, stand-alone, age-restricted senior activity center will signal that Arlington cares about its seniors.
Elva Roy, founder of Ambassadors for Aging
The three types of centers and estimates provided by city officials:
▪ A seniors-only center: Potential amenities include a gymnasium, indoor track, aquatic center, kitchen, theater and an indoor/outdoor lounge in a 65,000-square-foot stand-alone building. The $25 million facility would generate enough user and program fees and other revenue to cover half its operating costs, but it would require an annual $750,000 subsidy.
▪ A multigenerational center: It would provide services for all ages and include an exclusive senior wing with separate amenities such as a gymnasium, therapy pool, aerobics exercise studio and learning lab. The rest of the building would have a wide range of features, including a family aquatic center, a four-court gymnasium and fitness room, all of which seniors could access whenever they want.
The building plan has been upsized to 140,000 square feet — from 125,000 — of which about 40,000 would be a senior wing. It would cost $40 million. The center’s revenue would pay all of its operating costs, if not more.
▪ Citywide activities center: City officials say this option is no longer a strong contender for priority funding.
The city has picked three potential locations for senior centers — Veterans Park, Vandergriff Park and the 25 acres that are home to the Pierce-Birch water purification plant.
It would give them the space and the segregation that they need to feel comfortable and give them convenient access to all the amenities.
Steve Blackburn, principal of BRS Architecture, saying that multigeneration concept is increasingly considered a more efficient way to provide senior services
Anthony Nagy, an Arlington resident since 1979, said after the presentation last week that he showed up intending to support a seniors-only center. But the consultants were convincing that a multigeneration center could “bring the city together” while providing adequate separation for the seniors.
“It gave me a different perspective,” Nagy said. “The presentation showed it can be done.”