Seniors have space right next door

Asked why they hold morning klatches at a coffee shop instead of joining their age-group peers at the Senior Center, some local oldtimers reportedly said they’d be happy to drop in – if there was a pool table.

While these gentlemen aren’t the only ones lamenting the now billiard-free state of our community, they do point up a limitation of the one facility dedicated solely to the needs of our local senior citizens:

Space. Or rather, lack thereof.

Elsewhere in this issue we chronicle the Bainbridge Island Senior Community Center, and the challenges it faces with a growing membership and an aging island population – all the while, stuck in a building wing that offers but a single room for activities.

Many of the center’s programs spill over into the main hall of the Bainbridge Commons (which seniors manage for the city), but other functions in that space make the seniors themselves somewhat transient.

As we plan for the needs of our older citizens, here’s one option the city might consider: Just give the Commons, minus the health district’s wing, to the seniors outright.

Back in 1994, when the Senior Center and the old “Woody house” were joined to create the Commons, the building filled a definite need. Primarily, it was the venue for the city council (which had been meeting at a local fire hall). But since the new city hall opened, the building has been largely superfluous for civic affairs.

We rooted through the schedule book to get an idea of the types of events hosted at the Commons these days, and found a Democratic party get-together, a Cub Scout function, a youth basketball banquet, meetings by a city commission and two private homeowners associations, a couple of theater rehearsals, and a bar mitzvah or two. Most of the events were held in the evening; many days, the hall went unused but for the seniors. In any event, we suspect the private functions held there would have been just as successful elsewhere.

In fact, the practical effect of removing the Commons from the roster of local meeting halls would be less than dramatic. Thumbing through the 2002 Bainbridge Island Almanac (which appears, conveniently, in this issue of the Review), we found no fewer than nine halls with the same seating capacity (100) and primary amenity (full kitchen) as the Commons. Still others offer varied combination of seating and perks; fine facilities all, and in the case of the Filipino American Hall, recently restored. And that’s not counting the schools.

Nor is the city making much money on the Commons; last year, the finance department tells us, hall rental generated just $7,500. That’s not likely to make or break the general fund.

While we don’t presume to speak for the seniors or their needs, we do know under-utilized space when we see it. And the easiest and least expensive direction is usually to make better use of what’s already at hand.

In this case, that’s a 1,400-square-foot hall with a full kitchen attached. Room enough for our seniors to stretch their legs a little – enough for a pool table, even.

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