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A Senior Center matures

Karen Yearsley (left), a volunteer at the Bainbridge Island Senior Community Center works the busy front desk. She gets a new filing task from staff member Barbara Cole. The center is in the planning stages for an expansion to relieve crowding there. - JULIE BUSCH photo
Karen Yearsley (left), a volunteer at the Bainbridge Island Senior Community Center works the busy front desk. She gets a new filing task from staff member Barbara Cole. The center is in the planning stages for an expansion to relieve crowding there.
— image credit: JULIE BUSCH photo

The island’s graying populace means crowded classes, lunches.

At the Senior Center, folks often bump into friends, but these days the bumping has more to do with a shortage of space.

Although 50 people are registered for a senior exercise class, only half show up most days – and that’s a good thing, said Eileen Magnuson, instructor.

“Monday we had 23 people for aerobics. It’s pretty tight, so people can bump into each other,” Magnuson said. “If everyone showed up, I’d have to go into the parking lot or send some home.”

Facing increasingly crowded times during the day and a growing senior population on Bainbridge Island, the center’s board of directors has begun planning for an expansion of the center.

The expansion is one component of an overall strategic plan that will look at the role the center plays in the community.

Located in the Bainbridge Commons in Waterfront Park, the center now has more than 1,000 members. Some 225 new members were added to the center’s rolls last year.

Executive Director Jane Allan and board member Tom Kilbane say more and more seniors are moving to the island to be close to family.

“A lot of senior centers are looking to see how they’ll change with baby boomers getting older,” Allan said.

The first step will be to conduct a “needs assessment” among members and other facility users with help from consultants. The study will ask if the center could better serve seniors or reach out to non-members.

Kitsap County has already chipped in funds for the survey, and the Senior Center has put in a request for city funds, too.

Allan said the need to expand became clear about four years ago, when many programs were added and center officials “ran up to a wall” when it came to finding space to add or try new programs.

Besides the living room, the Kallgren Room meeting area and the Bainbridge Commons’ main hall, the center uses the health district’s area, which is available except for Tuesdays and contains a small meeting room and reception area.

After 3 p.m., the facilities are heavily used by community groups. The center is especially crowded on days when there are several classes in a row.

“You don’t get out of one (class) before the other one comes in,” member Marjorie Beer said.

“The doorway to the Commons gets blocked up, and sometimes a person who wants to get to the front desk can’t even get there,” said volunteer coordinator Orabelle Connally, and walkers or wheelchairs further complicate the mix.

Space crunch

The center’s living room, which seats about eight, is a space where seniors hang out before the daily Chuckwagon lunch at noon, wait for a class to begin or sit with a cup of coffee and socialize.

But Allan says the small space is limiting.

“There’s less of an opportunity to get together and talk in a meaningful way if there isn’t enough space,” she said. “You want a lot of informal socializing.”

“I think socializing is critical,” Kilbane added. “At the coffee shop (in the Port Angeles senior center), all the old-timers were there around the table. It got them together with their peers.

“It wasn’t what they were talking about, it’s that they got to see their friends. You have to be able to get out and talk.”

Adri-Anna Arena, who coordinates the popular Chuckwagon lunch in the Kallgren Room Monday through Friday, says space limits the number of people they can serve.

“We do have a definite problem on special occasions (holidays) where we would like to serve more but really can’t because of space limitations,” she said. “I do believe our numbers would be greater if the ambiance wasn’t so cramped, and I rarely book any entertainment for BISCC Chuckwagon anymore because there just isn’t any room.”

John Vincent agrees that the living room could use more space, especially before lunch, but usually finds enough room there the rest of the day.

Others thought the current space adequate, but likely to become too small in five years.

At the same time, Marjorie Beer says the smaller room has its advantages, enabling everyone to join in the same conversation and be more friendly rather than be split into cliques as tends to happen in large spaces.

Tilly Warren, a senior thrift shop volunteer, says with more space, the shop could boost sales. Even though they recently cleared out 62 shopping bags ‘worth of items during a recent sale, there are still enough clothes in the back to fill two more circular display racks – if there were space.

From an administrative staff view, Allan says there also aren’t enough spaces for privacy, such as needed for Medicare counseling.

In its research, the BISCC board members have visited about six other area senior centers for ideas, and once the needs are known, the possibilities for expanding on the current site will be examined.

Also in the plan is coming up with funding for facility expansion. The city owns the current center, but the Bainbridge Island park district pays for the staff – just one full-time and two part-time positions. Class instructors and other positions are filled by volunteers.

Allan says she is impressed by the Port Angeles center that includes a coffee shop run by seniors and open all day. Other centers have flexible rooms with locked storage cabinets for the space’s various users.

“We’d like to feel the community would like a bigger, better Senior Center, but to support it, they need to know what it is,” Allan said.

Kilbane said another reason to get going this year is to be ready when other facilities-related projects in the city start to move forward, such as Winslow Tomorrow and the Cultural Facilities plan.

“We feel like we really need to get off the ground this year so we’ll be able to fit into all the other plans going on, because the city’s probably going to look at everything,” Allan said. “We need to be part of the equation.”

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