Lexington mulls building new recreation center for seniors, people with disabilities

When Lexington opened a new, larger, brighter senior center in Idle Hour Park in 2016, the response from seniors was immediate and overwhelming.

“It was at full capacity almost immediately,” said Mayor Linda Gorton.

There are currently waiting lists for popular programs, particularly for exercise classes.

Meanwhile, the city’s therapeutic recreation programs, which serve adults and kids with disabilities, need improved and upgraded facilities. There is a day program for adults with disabilities at the Dunbar Community Center and other programs in antiquated buildings at Castlewood and Woodland parks. Those spaces are not ideal, said Monica Conrad, the Parks and Recreation Department director.

It’s past time to address the shortage of space for both endeavors, Gorton said.

Gorton proposes to spend about $10 million on a 22,000-square-foot senior and recreational therapy building to create a permanent home for the city’s therapeutic recreation program and to provide additional space for exercise and recreation programs for seniors.

The tentative plans include a dividable multipurpose room; group fitness rooms and rooms with fitness equipment; and an arts and crafts studio.

According to data provided by the city, the current senior center offered 57 weekly exercise classes in 2019, the last full year the senior center was open before the coronavirus pandemic hit. Of those classes, nearly 75 percent were at capacity. The senior center added 125 new memberships a month in 2019. The average daily attendance was 368.

“It would provide the perfect fit,” Gorton said of combining the two programs in one space. “This is the right thing to do for the citizens of this county.”

Proposed site is near where majority of Fayette County seniors live

Sally Hamilton, the city’s chief administrative officer, said the city looked at possible locations on city-owned land as it did when it built the current senior center in 2016 in Idle Hour Park.

Hamilton said a section of land adjoining the Shillito Pool in Shillito Park offered an ideal location for a new building. The city saves money by building on property it owns, she said. The Shillito Pool already has parking, but there is room on land adjacent to the pool to add parking if needed.

Moreover, Gorton said U.S. Census tract data shows the majority of seniors in Fayette County live on the south side of town, close to Shillito, which is off of Reynolds Road.

“We also have a growing senior population,” Gorton said. The programming needs of that population will grow in coming years.

Conrad said the park’s therapeutic recreation program, one of only three in Kentucky run by a city parks department, would be able to expand its services if it had a centralized location. Therapeutic recreation started in 1955 in Lexington thanks to a Joseph F. Kennedy Foundation grant. But the program has never had its own centralized and updated facility, Conrad said.

“This would also bring that program under one roof,” Conrad said. Various camps and other activities serve about 200 people. An additional 100 people could be accommodated with more space. Those programs range from fitness classes, aquatics and kayaking to cooking and dance productions.

By combining the senior and therapeutic programs, some operational costs can be shaved, Hamilton said.

In addition to the $10 million for all construction and design costs, the plan will generate $584,000 in operating costs per year, the city estimates. Of that total, approximately $321,000 are personnel costs.

“There will be ongoing costs, which we will have to have a discussion about,” Gorton said.

Gorton said she did not put the proposed senior and recreation center in her $398 million budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1 because city officials were working on the proposal’s details, including projected costs.

The city is expecting $122 million in American Rescue Plan Act money over the next two years. Gorton said she would prefer to use money from a projected current-year surplus for the new building rather than federal coronavirus stimulus dollars, which have a host of restrictions and red tape.

The Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council is scheduled to hear more about the proposal at a Tuesday council work session. No vote is expected yet.