Bainbridge parks district parts ways with senior center at Waterfront Park

The Bainbridge parks system is parting ways with the Bainbridge Island Senior Community Center.

Officials with the park district and the nonprofit board for the senior center have agreed to terminate their agreement that provides for senior programs and management of Waterfront Park Community Center.

Park officials have notified the city of the split from the nonprofit senior center, and said the agreement will officially be terminated on March 23.

The city owns Waterfront Park Community Center, but the park district has been providing programming at the building under a partnership that stretches back to the mid 1980s.

Terry Lande, executive director of the Bainbridge Island Metropolitan Park &Recreation District, said the split was “amicable.”

Lande and park board commissioners met repeatedly with senior center officials late last year to hammer out any issues with the agreement over management and programming at the community center, and the two sides inked a new contract that was approved Dec. 16.

That contract didn’t prove to be lasting.

“We got together and talked about what the issues were, in regard to running the programs and running the center. And we came to a conclusion they were better off on running the programs on their own and doing what they wanted to do,” Lande said.

“It’s either we all have to be pulling the rope the same way, or go in different directions,” Lande said.

Under the park district’s contract with the city, the park district leased space in Waterfront Park Community Center and handled room rentals, as well as cleaning, maintenance and repair of the building.

The park district’s agreement with the Bainbridge Island Senior Community Center made the district responsible for providing paid professional staff for the center, supervising volunteers and promoting senior programs.

The nonprofit for the senior center, according to the contract, had the responsibilities of operating the thrift shop, and the Bingo and Evergreen Singers programs. The senior center also helped with volunteer recruitment and training.

The parks district has been subsidizing the senior program at Waterfront Park Community Center at a cost of approximately $180,000 a year. Those costs include the salaries of the three employees who had been based out of the senior center, as well as for custodial work and other maintenance and operation costs.

Park district officials said senior programs that were offered by the district at Waterfront Park Community Center will be located to other park facilities, and the district’s staffing will move, as well.

Lande said discussions on the transition were still underway, and the details for future programs for older adults will be finalized by the time the district’s summer program comes out in late March.

While some programs may be expanded, officials said, others will just be moved.

“By no means, we’re not shutting off or stopping any service we did before,” said Mark Benishek, recreation services director for Bainbridge parks.

The park district won’t be offering programs that compete with the senior center, and Benishek said the district’s variety of venues will give parks the opportunity to host programming in areas away from Winslow.

A new population of retirees has moved to Bainbridge, Benishek said, and different generations have different interests.

“We’re also going to be expanding on the focus of active adult engagement,” he added.

That area of programming for more active adults and retirees will include offerings such as hikes, short travel trips, mindful education and clinics.

Park staff now working at Waterfront Park Community Center are expecting to move to the park district’s Strawberry Hill campus.

Talk of a possible parting has been bubbling for months. Some outside the park district did not like the automated phone system that was installed by parks to handle calls to the senior center, and others were put off by the paperwork required for people who wanted to help out at the senior center as park district volunteers.

The park district agreed to part ways with the Bainbridge Island Senior Community Center on Feb. 21.

In a message from the board of directors for the Bainbridge Island Senior Community Center that was included in their recent newsletter, the board said “recent changes in procedures have created a need to review the contractual agreement.”

The newsletter message said the split would give the senior center the ability to run programs “unconstrained” from the park district’s requirements and procedures.

The message also noted the senior center will need to create mechanisms for operating the center, as well as for class registrations and schedules, and room rentals. A new manager will also need to be hired.

“The [senior center] board and other volunteers will be working hard to make these changes in the weeks and months ahead,” the message from the board said.

“Although the road ahead may be a bit ‘bumpy’ at first, we anticipate a relatively smooth transition and ask you to bear with any brief inconveniences that may occur,” the board said.

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