There are “seniors,” and there are “senior seniors,” said Tom Gunn, vice president of the United Senior Citizens of Bend, on Tuesday. And the Bend Park & Recreation District does a poor job of providing services for the latter in favor of the former, he added.
About a dozen members of USCB met Tuesday with the park district board of directors for an hour to share their grievances about how the district has managed the Bend Senior Center. It was the first time the two parties have met since the seniors’ group started airing their complaints last summer.
“At this point, Bend does not have a ‘senior’ center,” Gunn said. To underscore the point, he sometimes referred to the facility at 1600 S.E. Reed Market Road as the “Larkspur Park Multi-generational Activity Center.”
More than a decade ago, USCB, the Park District and the city of Bend teamed up to raise more than $1.9 million to build the senior center and another $400,000 to expand it.
But their relationship has soured since then, largely due to disagreements over the senior center’s operations, and USCB now wants its money back.
Claiming it formed a legally binding partnership with the park district, the seniors group has threatened to sue the district for almost $1 million, what the group feels is its fair share of the building’s worth. It has yet to file any such lawsuit in court.
Park district officials deny the USCB partnership claim but scheduled Tuesday’s meeting to learn more about the senior group’s claims that the park district operations left seniors out.
“A true senior center should be catering to the people whose lives are limited,” Gunn said.
He said USCB was catering to this older group of seniors — people he referred to as “senior seniors” — and hoped it could continue doing so when it reached out to the city and eventually the parks district to build the senior center.
“(What we wanted) was a nicer, bigger version of what we had before,” USCB President Virginia Reddick said, referencing the senior group’s previous headquarters on the corner of Northeast Fifth Street and Kearney Avenue. USCB transferred the building title to the city, which in turn sold it to the Bend Community Center 12 years ago
But Gunn, Reddick and USCB’s other members claim what they got was a recreational facility that focuses on providing services to people ages 50 and older. Gunn said people in this age group are not “anywhere near being in the same world that we are” and often intimidate those he wants to serve.
They also complained about a “toxic atmosphere” at the senior center where USCB and the “senior seniors” felt they were being pushed out of the facility they helped build. USCB left the senior center during summer 2011 and moved back to the building that it now shares with Bend Community Center.
“Our responsibility has always been to provide recreation,” parkdistrict Executive Director Don Horton said. The senior center is designed to serve all seniors and not just a particular group, he added,
He said the senior center has always had this dual mission and referenced a 2001 newsletter that described the soon-to-be-built facility as a place “for persons 50 and older promoting active, healthy lifestyles by providing seniors recreation activities.”
But he also thought the meeting was helpful, an opinion Gunn shares, because it gave the board a chance to learn more about USCB’s claims. Horton said he will prepare a report for park board members next month describing the senior center’s offerings and how they have changed.
Board members will then review this report and use it to prepare a formal response to USCB’s claims, he said.