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Colorado Springs Senior Center will raise fees for classes, night meetings 

Plugging a deficit

click to enlarge M.B. Gallentine enjoys the senior center. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • M.B. Gallentine enjoys the senior center.

The Colorado Springs Senior Center fills M.B. Gallentine's afternoons with games of bridge, cribbage and pinochle, plus lunch for $2.25.

Now 98 years old, he's been driving himself here since 2006 when his wife died. He's helped organize the center's small library and attends some evening programs. "People say they can get through the morning," he says, "but the afternoons, they have to fill them somehow. The afternoons are just a blank. You have to have something to do. That's why I started coming here."

The city-owned center is run by the YMCA of the Pikes Peak Region, which saw a $92,000 deficit last year, prompting a recent change in fees. Groups meeting at night that aren't connected to the center will be charged rent, while fees at the center itself will be increased.

That won't impact Gallentine, who doesn't have to pay a fee to play cards, but fellow user Bob Landgraf says the change will mean two groups he participates in will have to find a new place to meet, in all likelihood, or charge its members more.

Landgraf says the Colorado Springs Mineralogical Society and an investors club will be hard pressed to pay the night fees, even though the mineral society draws from 50 to 90 people to its monthly meetings.

"You'd think [center staff] would talk to people and discuss alternatives," Landgraf says. "But they're just making this decision. It left us in the dark until it happened."

And he's not the only one impacted by the change. Last year, the first time attendance was tracked, the center logged 28,000 visits and that number will probably grow. Census data show the county's 60-and-older population increased by about 53 percent from 2000 to 2010 — to 93,622 — and it's forecasted to jump by another 53 percent — to 143,407 — by 2020.

The Senior Center has been open for nearly 50 years. When the 2008 recession hit, the city could no longer subsidize it and in 2011 handed operations to the Colorado Springs Housing Authority. But within a few years, the authority was no longer interested, so the city sought bids. The YMCA, which had already contracted to run the city's pools and a couple of community centers several years before, was the only bidder.

It took over on Sept. 1, 2015, under a one-year contract with four one-year options, and kept all the city's workers on board. Now, nearly two years later, it's clear some financial tinkering is needed.

"We want to build a sustainable model and keep the doors open," Jeff Peterson, the YMCA's senior vice president and chief operating officer, says in an interview. But 15 groups that don't necessarily serve seniors in their after-hours meetings at the center bring staff and utilities costs that need to be covered somehow; the $1 "drop in" fee the club members pay doesn't cover that, he says.

Hence, Peterson says, the YMCA next month will start charging the groups $175 per hour, with a two-hour minimum, rather than the $1 "drop-in" fee to use the center.

In addition, fees for classes will go up $5 each. That might bring in quite a bit, considering the center offers nearly 300 classes and activities that cover a wide spectrum: yoga, planting a garden, history, sewing, painting, making a dulcimer, even travel on buses to local museums, theatrical events and Rockies games. Those charges range from a few dollars to $100.

"To have a sustainable business model, you can't have people paying just $1 or $2. It's just not covering the cost of things," Peterson says. "So we had to make a good business decision. We're open to having groups there — we just need to cover our costs."

Peterson notes the rate hikes are the first in at least six years, but adds the Y's policy is to "never turn anyone away" who cannot afford the charges.

Landgraf says his groups are comprised mostly of people 55 and older, and that the mineral group has made donations over the years to improve the center's technology. In January, it paid the center $1,350 to cover meeting fees. (Peterson says clubs that prepaid have been issued refunds for July through December, and will be charged the new fees.) Landgraf also says the mineral club hasn't found another free venue, which is tricky, because the club also has "satellite" sub-groups that focus on fossils and crystals.

"Basically, they are giving us a month-and-a-half [notice], and it's not that easy to find a new place for that period of time," he says. "I look at it as a quality-of-life issue in Colorado Springs. We have all these seniors moving here, and the Senior Center is such a good place."

click to enlarge Classes at the Senior Center include yoga and exercise. - CASEY BRADLEY GENT
  • Casey Bradley Gent
  • Classes at the Senior Center include yoga and exercise.

Peterson says the YMCA wanted to run the center because it fits with the nonprofit's strategic plan. "We know that the senior group is growing so much across the country, including here, so we have started an aging initiative strategy," he says, adding that programs for seniors also are offered at YMCA facilities, not just the Senior Center.

The YMCA's contract with the city provides $140,000 to the YMCA from a trust set up years ago to aid the center. Peterson says in 2016, the center cost $430,000 to run, meaning it had to generate $290,000 to break even. Any shortfalls are paid by the city, while any year-end gains are to be split with the city 50/50, the contract says.

The change in fees to close that gap are allowed under the contract, which states, "The cost to participants for such programs and services shall he determined by the YMCA."

Under another provision, the YMCA must make "reasonable efforts to garner public input" prior to any change in hours and dates of operation, including at least one public meeting. There's no evidence a public meeting for that purpose was held, but it probably wasn't necessary, because fees — not hours — will change.

The YMCA did notify Ryan Trujillo, the city's sustainability and support services manager, who monitors the contract and reports that the YMCA "is a great partner" and remains fully compliant. But others weren't aware of the change, including City Council President Pro Tem Jill Gaebler, in whose district the center is located, at-large City Councilor Tom Strand, and a collaborative on aging that the city is a part of.

Last year, the city joined AARP Age-Friendly Communities "to make our community known as a remarkable place in which to age," according to the Innovations in Aging Collaborative, which formed in 2008. The collaborative produced an Age-Friendly report last September that outlines goals for addressing needs of seniors in outdoor spaces and buildings, transportation, housing, health, social inclusion, civic participation and employment.

The collaborative monitors Senior Center programming that's been extended to YMCA facilities and helped set up a program between the Senior Center and Concrete Couch for intergenerational art projects, according to its website. (Disclosure: Concrete Couch occupies a building owned by the Independent.) Yet, the collaborative wasn't notified of the YMCA's Senior Center fee changes.

"I will definitely reach out to the folks at the senior center and see if I can learn more and get some clarification," Executive Director Claire Anderson said via email.

On the bright side, although the YMCA is entitled to back out of its city contract any given year, Peterson says, "We're in for the long haul." That's good news for Gallentine.

"It fits my schedule pretty good," he says. "The people who work here are always accommodating, too."

  • Plugging a deficit

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