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Posted on Thu, Jul 30, 2009 : 2:08 p.m.

Ann Arbor seniors, task force consider options under threat of Senior Center closure

By Tina Reed


The Ann Arbor Senior Center is in a humble, aging structure in the corner of Burns Park.

Created from a refurbished stable, it has a small commercial kitchen and a few meeting spaces occasionally rented out for church groups or family gatherings.

But for Laura and Tudor Bradley and about 500 other Ann Arbor area residents, it’s one of the best places to meet up with frieneds for bridge games, movie nights and social lunches.

“It’s a place to retire to,” Laura Bradley said. “This is my social group.”

That gathering space is one of a few Ann Arbor Parks and Recreation facilities that are getting a hard look as city officials eye budget cuts. A task force that began meeting last week is discussing ways to keep the center.

Earlier this year, City Administrator Roger Fraser proposed closing the center, which brings in little revenue to offset its cost. It also duplicates services -- such as language classes -- that are available elsewhere in the city.

But there is a larger, more intangible social value for regular users who are largely between the ages of 70 and 90, users of the center and city staff members recognize.

For instance, Laura Bradley said she might not have found out for days about the death of one of her friends recently had it not been for the news that flies around the center.

The question is not whether the city would like to keep the center open, but whether it makes financial sense, city officials say.

A city task force made up of neighbors, city staff and council members, aging experts and center users is trying to find a way to save the local facility or soften the blow for local users who have come to rely on services there.

“I can’t say the goal is to keep the Senior Center open because the (city council) resolution really asks that staff with citizen input evaluate options for either sustaining it in a way that’s fiscally responsible … or if that proves impossible, then we have to make sure those activities remain available and accessible to seniors,” said City Councilwoman Margie Teall, who is heading the task force. A solution is needed by December because city budget talks expected to occur in the first months of 2010.


Other facilities cost the department much less to operate or even generate revenue. For example, Cobblestone Farm on Packard Road has more than 30,000 visitors a year. It costs the department about $265,000 a year to run, but it also generates about $258,000 in revenue.

Other programs, such as the Argo Canoe Livery, actually generate money a small amount of revenue.In 2008, the Senior Center brought in about $17,000, but had a net cost of about $153,000.

A few years ago, the senior center received a large donation which has been kept as an endowment. There is now about $107,000 in the endowment. The center also recently received a grant through the Ann Arbor Community Foundation for nearly $17,000. At its meeting last week, the task force mentioned the money as something to be considered during the process.

If this were all about the math though, it’d be an easier decision, said Jayne Miller, Community Services Administrator for the Parks and Recreation Department.

“When you look at the population we’re serving, even if services are provided elsewhere for them, this is their social environment,” Miller said.

Thus, the regular bridge game is more than just a past-time. For some seniors, it is one of the only quality social interactions they get. And that value is hard to quantify, she said.

“For them to go to another location would be very difficult … That’s another piece that makes this more difficult,” Miller said.

At the task force meeting, center director Pamela Simmons pointed to several ideas that users of the center had brainstormed for making it sustainable. The Parks and Recreation department is hosting a picnic in Burns Park on August 22 to raise awareness and money for the center.

During a recent lunch, several seniors said they’d be willing to pay and make other contributions to help keep the center.

But after many had paid years worth of taxes and made other substantial community contributions, many also felt the city should be giving greater financial consideration to benefiting the older population of Ann Arborites.

“I think the city should remember what these people have contributed and cut us a little slack,” said Ann Arbor resident Liz Gleich, who uses the center.

There’s also a long-term issue about whether senior citizens of the future -- the looming population of aging baby boomers -- would even be interested in the services that the senior center of today offers.

That question may guide the conversation going forward about what would best serve local seniors and what would create the most sustainable model for keeping the center open. For instance, some centers in Chicago have tried to create intergenerational environments and cater to younger seniors who prefer the coffee-shop environment.

Other centers have tried organizing group trips as fundraisers or advertising for a need of donations. Other ideas included creating additional fees for using the center and renegotiating instructor contracts.

Local seniors say they will continue to look for ways to make it more sustainable and hope that the threat of it closing won’t become a reality.

“They are going to lose a place they will regret,” Laura Bradley said. “It’s a pace to grow older. I’ve met so many people, seniors, here … and found commonality as a group. I don’t know where else we’d find that.”

Photos by Mark Bialek for Photo 1: Fred Otto of Ann Arbor leaves the Senior Center. Photo 2: Laura Bradley of Ann Arbor talks about the Ann Arbor Senior Center.

Tina Reed can be reached at or find her on Twitter @Treedinaa.



Sat, Aug 1, 2009 : 10:02 a.m.

I paul jensen With the rising senior population I say no and no again to city council and ITs Mayor More im concerned where the councils action will take us.Take, for example The wanton distruction of historic proerties downtown IM against "Super Stores"n my nieghborhood LIKE CVS,im TOTALLY AGAINST cvs AND ITS PROPONENTS

Kathleen Kosobud

Fri, Jul 31, 2009 : 10:43 a.m.

My mother, who is not wealthy, attends yoga classes at the Senior Center, among other activities. She is more agile than I am. She also has maintained friendships with people she has known over the years. Even though people move to different settings, they continue their friendships by gathering at the senior center. Keeping in touch with others is important to my mother; it keeps her active, interested (and interesting) and engaged in a community of kindred spirits.

Angil Tarach-Ritchey RN, GCM

Fri, Jul 31, 2009 : 8:55 a.m.

Topcat, I have worked and spent time with seniors over 30 years. Although there are seniors who have been able to preserve assets and do well, there are just as many struggling. Those who own homes in Ann Arbor are paying plenty of taxes yearly for schools where they haven't had children attend in years. I wonder if their tax dollars were diverted away from the schools which they don't utilize to their "hangout", thoughts would change? Imagine for a moment being elderly, your spouse and friends have passed away, and the only place to socialize with people your age is the local senior center, and that is being taken away. I can tell you without doubt that if we don't support services for seniors now, there will be absolutely nothing when we are old. Being part of a community means being supportive of each other. If everyone could start thinking in terms of "we" and not just "me" we'd all be better off. If you're unable to afford $5, then don't worry about contributing. There are plenty of people in Ann Arbor who can. I hope your struggles are lessened and your heart is open.


Fri, Jul 31, 2009 : 4:28 a.m.

It's hard to choose among the wonderful options for a solution to problems like this. We could try the G.W.Bush plan: privatize Social Security, let the crooked corporate leadership pillage everyone's retirement fund and put the impoverished elderly on the street where they can "earn their own way" again. Or try Bush Plan B: eliminate all taxes and public services of any kind so that we can live in a landscape dominated by pay to play centers modeled after Las Vegas. Seniors love to play the slots, you know. Or... why not get corporate sponsorship, we could have the (name of corporation here) New & Improved Senior Center - where every member gets a free T-shirt emblazoned with a corporate logo. (The wearing of which would be mandatory, or course.) Or... we could try the "horrible" model of many European countries where everyone pays "exorbitant taxes" during their working years but then get better medical care for free along with a decent standard of living after retirement. Lions and Tigers and "Socialism, oh my!! Well, one of the things which make Ann Arbor a great place to live is the Parks & Rec. system. We should be thinking, "whatever it takes" to keep it that way.


Thu, Jul 30, 2009 : 6:38 p.m.

Huron Hills golf course is beloved by the wealthy Ann Arborites whose homes border it. That's why the council won't close it.

Tina Reed

Thu, Jul 30, 2009 : 5:39 p.m.

Thanks for the interesting conversation. Gill and David - I'll be looking into your questions and I'll get back to them as soon as possible. - Tina Reed

David Martel

Thu, Jul 30, 2009 : 4:37 p.m.

Angil - nice to see you on I totally agree with your perspective. Topcat - you may have a point..."Measured in terms of assets, Senior Citizens are the wealthiest people in this society." However, is the wealth profile of the seniors that utilize this particular center representative of Senior Citizens nationwide? I wonder. Regardless, what's $5 per year to protect a valuable resource in our community? We have to look at the big picture and understand what makes our community great. For example, I contribute to our public schools yet I don't have children. Why? Our schools contribute to the quality of life in our community. Resources for our seniors also contribute to what makes our community special. Thanks. David Martel

Top Cat

Thu, Jul 30, 2009 : 3:51 p.m.

Measured in terms of assets, Senior Citizens are the wealthiest people in this society. They should neither ask nor expect the general public to pay for things like this. Why should working families struggling to raise children have to pay for a place for these folks to hang out? If they want a place to socialize, they should pay for it themselves.

Angil Tarach-Ritchey RN, GCM

Thu, Jul 30, 2009 : 2:37 p.m.

The senior population seems to always take the budget cuts. Socialization is an extremely important part of senior health. Elderly people who aren't able, or don't socialize are more likely to suffer from depression, and other illnesses. How can Ann Arbor be recently called one of the best places to age, and then turn around and think the Senior Center isn't important enough to keep open? This community is full of retired professors, business owners, grandmothers who have raised a generation, and many others who contributed a great deal to Ann Arbor and it's citizens. What are we giving them for all they have given us? There are over 45,000 households in Ann Arbor. If each household could donate $5. one time a year for the Senior Center, they would not only have enough money to stay open, they could expand their activities. I don't know about you, but I pay alot of taxes that go to things I would never pay for, given the choice. Any of us can go without one fancy coffee from Starbuck's, or a combo meal from a fast food restaurant, once a year to give to the elders that paved our way. I will be sending my $5.00 today, please join me and encourage your friends and neighbors to do the same. I've added the address below for your convenience. Angil Tarach RN Visiting Angels Ann Arbor Senior Center 1320 Baldwin Ave Ann Arbor, MI 48104-3660


Thu, Jul 30, 2009 : 1:42 p.m.

"Other facilities cost the department much less to operate or even generate revenue." Could you provide the financial stats for the Huron Hills Golf Course, please? Thanks.