Manchester looks at what’s needed in a senior center | Manchester
MANCHESTER — The town is seeking residents’ opinions as it tries to envision what a new Senior Center could look like.
A nine-question survey, which runs through Friday, March 18, asks residents to identify which programs, services, and drop-in activities they are most interested in.
Joel Cox, who is the director of human services, said the town is still in the early stages of the planning process for a new Senior Center, and the survey results will help “lay the foundation” for designing a space that reflects the interests of Manchester’s diverse population.
The town has already hired a consultant — Lifespan Design Studio — which will incorporate the survey results into a report detailing what an adequate Senior Center space would look like, Cox said. The consultant will likely release its report next month.
The purpose of the survey is to determine the right mix of programs and activities. The decision on whether to relocate the Senior Center, renovate its current building on East Middle Turnpike, or construct a new facility will be the next step in the process, Director Eileen Faust said.
The Senior Center officially opened in May 1980 and underwent a $1.3 million renovation in 1999. Its building is over 100 years old and has some limitations, Faust said. The building’s side entrances aren’t accessible for people who use a wheelchair. There’s also no central hallway, forcing visitors to travel through rooms where activities could be in progress.
“If we were going to expand services, we would absolutely have to get more space,” Faust said.
The first five questions of the survey ask people to identify what specific programs, activities, and services they would like to see in a new center. The remaining four questions focus on demographics.
The survey’s primary focus, Cox said, is to assess the needs and priorities of the people who use the Senior Center. With that knowledge, the town can work to tailor its services, making them more dynamic and discarding outdated notions of how a Senior Center should operate.
Older adults “want to engage in things that are beyond bingo and playing cards,” Cox said. “The goal is to create livable communities where people can age in place and not need to go beyond their communities for the things they need.”
During her 15 years as the Senior Center’s director, Faust said more emphasis has been placed on healthy aging, or “the idea that you’re possibly going to live longer than your parents did.” The town has been mindful of this shift to a more holistic approach to aging and has tried to incorporate activities that match the interests and desires of the community.
The Senior Center has upped its physical fitness classes in recent years. Renata Vittorio said she attends many of these classes, including tai chi — a style of martial arts — yoga, and Zumba. Staying active helps alleviate the pain of arthritis, she said.
“You want to keep on moving because it’s better for your muscles and your bones,” Vittorio said. “We’re strengthening our muscles … It’s almost like going to a physical therapist.”
Vittorio said she is interested in doing more fitness classes outdoors, because right now she spends most of her time doing activities inside the Senior Center. She would also like to see more discussion groups that focus on current events in Manchester.
Community input from older adults can sometimes be overlooked, especially during municipal elections, Vittorio said, and the best way to address the issue is by forming discussion groups that keep people informed.
“Apparently they feel our input isn’t good enough,” Vittorio said. “So how do we make our voices heard more? It has to be probably through a place like this with discussion groups.”
Faust said that the town values feedback from everyone in the community because its services are not limited to just those people who pay for a membership. During tax season, the Senior Center hosts AARP counselors who assist residents with their tax returns. The center also provides social work and health services.
Michelle D’Esopo’s ceramics class, which she has taught for the past 15 years, is one of the center’s most popular activities; the class has 24 students, with more students on a waiting list.
But D’Esopo’s studio, which is located on the first floor, is crammed with clay pieces, some freshly fired and smooth, others unfinished and waiting to be tossed in the kiln. D’Esopo said she would like to see the Senior Center eventually get a new building to accommodate everybody, especially her ceramics students, who could use more space to sand their pieces.
“My room is small,” D’Esopo said. “I can’t show all of the pieces.”
As a retired Information Technology worker, Bob Fox said going to the Senior Center gives him something to occupy his free time. Fox, who enjoys playing billiards at the Senior Center, didn’t have any ideas for programs or services, but did comment that he likes the one-level design of senior centers in surrounding towns.
Lucy Brunner, Mary Nason, Pat Nauer, and Phyllis Maulucci, sitting at a small table playing pinochle, all agreed they would like to see the Senior Center get a swimming pool, which was one of the amenity choices listed on the survey.
“Swimming is the best type of exercise for the elderly,” Maulucci said.
Maulucci said she has also tried chair yoga since joining the Senior Center, an activity that is beneficial for members who struggle with their balance. Bauer, meanwhile, said she would like to see more instructors who are available to help members with certain tricky activities, such as knitting and crochet.
Doris Whiting, who was warming up in a chair before her afternoon yoga class, said she would like to see smaller-sized classes. At least 15 people were sprawled out on yoga mats that draped most of the floor space in the makeshift studio.
Whiting added she would like to see new musical programs, such as a choral group or a drum group.
“I have rhythm,” Whiting said proudly. “I think a drum group would be good, and it’s something I’ve always wanted to do.”
Austin Mirmina covers Manchester and Bolton.