The city government’s somewhat unexpected choice not to fund a project combining the Keene Senior Center and city recreation center may be temporary, but for now, it leaves the Senior Center without a set answer to its biggest question: how to serve a growing membership without more space?
That the city balked at the $9.2 million price tag of the plan was understandable, and some officials have said if another, less costly project can be put forward down the line, it might gain approval.
That’s a big if, however, and in the meantime, Senior Center staff must figure out what to do with the organization’s Court Street site, which is maxed out in both parking and space for activities. You see, the center has 500 or so members, from all over the region. And those members are often seeking the social engagement provided by shared activities.
Assuming the center remains in place for at least the next several years — a safe guess — it could deal with some of the problems. Director Cameron Tease says he’s consulting with architectural students at Keene State College about renovating the building’s interior to create more space, though that would mean sinking much more money into the present site. And the parking crunch might be eased if the City Express bus service had a stop outside the center, allowing more Keene residents to reach the center without a car.
But only 60 percent of the center’s members are from Keene, hindering that as a solution. This membership breakdown also points to a limiting factor in the organization’s setup. It is a center; a destination at which almost all its activities are run. Therefore, the area’s seniors have to travel to the Senior Center, whatever the weather, to use its programs.
The organization already partners with other agencies and efforts. There may be more to explore there that would allow the Senior Center to expand without being overrun. It might follow the lead of The Community Kitchen and other local food pantries, which are looking to combine in seeking funding from the Monadnock United Way as a collective this year, rather than individually. That will increase their buying power and extend their reach.
Not only has the United Way altered its practices to encourage joint efforts and regionalization, but the state government also appears to be heading that way as well. The Department of Health and Human Services recently rolled out a new regional hub-and-spoke model for treatment of addiction issues.
One move Senior Center officials are pondering that has appeal is to look at using similar partnerships to create satellite locations elsewhere in the region on a smaller scale, becoming the hub in a similar vein.
Keene will always be a central destination in the county and region, but it isn’t convenient to everyone. Especially as the region’s population ages — and demographic data indicate that’s exactly what’s happening — the demand for the type of important services the Keene Senior Center provides will continue to grow, in and out of the city.
It may be seen as a setback now, but pushing off any move to the Keene Recreation Center may give the senior center the chance to take a bigger-picture look at how best to serve the region’s elderly.