Photograph by Steven Higgs
The long-time home of the Bloomington Adult Community Center will soon be a charter school, and those who have spent years enjoying the company of their friends there will find their programs moved miles from downtown. City officials did not tell the public about the move until it was a done deal.
Revolt stirred in an unlikely corner of Bloomington when word got out that the Bloomington Adult Community Center (BACC) on South Walnut Street would be closed and most of its programs moved to the Sportsplex.
To many older adults who play bridge, dance, learn languages, get help with their taxes and otherwise use the well-worn building, this was not good news. The Sportsplex -- out busy, narrow Second Street on the edge of what used to be "the town" -- is hard for walkers, bike riders, bus riders and even drivers to get to.
Some of us like the BACC where it is: downtown, where we can come to a class and then stop off at the post office and library, maybe drop in at a coffee shop. Some of us like having a place of our own, even if it is a worn warren of rooms. And some of us were not happy that we did not find out what was in store for us until mid-March.
By that time, the City Council was well on its way to approving purchase of the Sportsplex. Nearly invisible was the second step of the Bloomington Parks and Recreation's plan: to turn the BACC building over to a new charter school that would renovate it and lease it for 10 years.
"Nearly invisible was the second step of the Bloomington Parks and Recreation's plan: to turn the BACC building over to a new charter school that would renovate it and lease it for 10 years."
When the City Council met April 1 for a final vote on the Sportsplex purchase, Alice Oestreich, former principal of University Elementary School and a member of my BACC Spanish class, made the connection clear in the public comment period: "If the SportsPlex is purchased, then the Bloomington Parks and Recreation Commissioners plan to relocate the Bloomington Adult Community Center so that they can lease our building to an interested party."
Losing the downtown BACC, she suggested, would be a loss to the community. Many who use the BACC take the bus or walk or ride bikes to get there, she told the council. "Even if we drive, we combine downtown errands (like visiting the library, paying bills, shopping and eating out) while we are there. None of this is available to us at the SportsPlex." For a town that considers itself a "senior-friendly community," this was the wrong move.
When she filled out the Parks and Recreation survey that Parks Director Mick Renneisen used to justify the Sportsplex purchase, Oestreich had never imagined that she was doing anything more than asking for additional exercise facilities. She never meant her response to result in moving the BACC.
"So, I say vote 'Yes' to purchasing the SportsPlex only if you are also going to support your citizens age 50 and older by maintaining our downtown Bloomington Adult Community Center," she said.
That was the theme voiced by other citizens when the Board of Parks Commissioners met April 7 to approve the lease of the building to the new charter Project School: keep a downtown community center for older adults - if not on the current site, then elsewhere.
Claire Gregory, who has studied both German and Spanish at the center, expressed her fear of losing that community "as we are scattered like popcorn."
"For a town that considers itself a 'senior-friendly community,' this was the wrong move."
Glee Noble, our Spanish teacher, called what was happening a "diaspora."
Dave Stewart, one of the younger speakers, came up with an acronym for a decision to close the downtown center: THWOP (To Hell with Old People).
Several noted the difficulty older people would have getting to the Sportsplex, which would be unsafe for drivers and bus passengers without a traffic light on Second Street, and the advantage of keeping the center close to the downtown bus station, since as people grow older they find it more difficult to get around but need -- as one speaker said -- "to keep moving."
Ashley Hillman, deputy director of the Area 10 Agency on Aging, said, "The closure of the BACC and the diaspora of all the groups is a step backward. As Bloomington is aging, the older population growing, is there a vision for the future to recentralize this group?"
In the end, board members assured us they had gotten the message and were favorably disposed toward finding a new downtown adult community center. "I appreciate the difference between being in a place, and being in a place that's a community," Board Vice President Jane St. John said.
"I think that it's going to take effort to find such a place," said Board member Joe Hoffman, "but I get the point that that's important to a lot of people." A minute or two later he thought of a place himself: the Convention Center, especially if it undergoes possible renovation. Another possible site mentioned: an underused section of the Showers Building.
Meanwhile, while the Sportsplex is being renovated, BACC programs will be dispersed through town, from the Banneker Community Center to Bell Trace. Some may eventually settle in happily at the Sportsplex, serving particularly residents on the west side - and with a center downtown to serve other residents.
When I told a friend in another city about all this to-do, she asked, "Don't you have senior citizen centers all over town?" Now that's an idea.
Carol Polsgrove can be reached at email@example.com.