By VERNON ROBISON
Moapa Valley Progress
The Overton Senior Center, in recent weeks, has taken steps to become more of a community center for a broader segment of the population. Local Parks and Rec staff began scheduling youth recreation programs at the Senior Center building earlier this month. And that is just a start, according to Parks and Rec staff.
The programs are currently geared toward the teen segment of the community in the age range of 11-15, according to local Parks and Rec director John Stastny.
The activities include an open recreation period during some of the weekday afternoons and on Saturdays. This program allows kids to drop in to play ping pong and other games together with their friends. Also scheduled are movie days every Friday afternoons when kids can watch a film and enjoy popcorn. In addition, the facility hosts the Leaders of the Future program on Friday afternoons.
“We have had a good turnout in the first week of the program,” Stastny said in an interview on Thursday last week. “Our average attendance has been about eight kids but it is growing. Yesterday we had eleven kids show up. It has been very positive.”
These programs are scheduled during the times of day when the Senior Center building sees little or no use from seniors, Stastny said.
The broader functionality of the building has been a special focus of County Commissioner Marilyn Kirkpatrick. Kirkpatrick observed that there were times of the day, and seasons of the year, when the Senior Center building was largely under-utilized. She saw that as an opportunity to expand general Parks and Rec programs to fill some of that capacity.
“For example, we know in the summer time, the seniors don’t use it nearly enough,” Kirkpatrick said. “That’s mainly because it is hot outside and many of them travel up north, or they just choose not to go out. But this is a great opportunity for other segments of the community to be able to utilize that facility.”
With local children out of school during the summer months, Parks and Rec youth programs would be a perfect fit to fill that capacity, Kirkpatrick said.
But the Commissioner is not just focusing on the summer months. She believes that there are opportunities for the community to be much more involved in the facility’s use throughout the year.
“Ultimately, I’d even like to see events where kids and seniors are mixed together for activities,” Kirkpatrick said. “So that it is more of a multi-generational facility. Seniors would use it in the morning and through the lunchtime hours. Then kids would use it in the early afternoon for after school programs. And then in the evening there could be activities where both seniors and youth come together. That would be great to see.”
The idea to expand use at the Senior Center began with requests from Moapa Valley residents for a community recreation center. For many years, a desire has been expressed for a facility in Moapa Valley similar to the Mesquite Recreation Center, with a large indoor pool as well as indoor and outdoor athletic facilities. But the high cost to build such a facility has been a detrimental factor.
Earlier this year a group of local residents formed a committee to research the options in locally funding such a building. Led by Moapa Valley Town Board member Allen Johnson, the group asked county staff to provide estimates on how much a Rec Center would cost to build. The estimate came back at more than $33 million.
Some discussion took place, at the time, about placing a local property tax measure on the ballot for this November’s election. The measure would institute a line item on local property tax bills to fund the facility. But it was decided that the timing was too short to get it on the ballot this year.
What’s more, it was feared that the high cost of the building might be difficult for local property owners to shoulder.
“You would almost have to float the tax for three or four years before you could even start to put anything in the ground,” Kirkpatrick explained. “I think that people would be frustrated at that.”
And with so much open capacity at existing facilities like the senior center, it was hard to justify such an expense, Kirkpatrick said. While researching into the matter, Kirkpatrick learned that the Senior Center; which was built by Clark County primarily for the local senior organization and is still maintained at the County’s expense; was never deed restricted for the sole use of United Seniors. Rather, a broader community use was intended as a secondary function of the facility, Kirkpatrick said.
“So I don’t think that (a new rec center facility) is necessary at this point,” Kirkpatrick said. “We have a perfectly good building that we can utilize and I think that we should fill up the schedule there.”
Kirkpatrick’s plan is to allow the next year of expanded use at the senior center facility to gauge what the needs of the community really are.
“That gives us an opportunity to see what the needs are today and to see if we can fill those needs using existing under-utilized facilities,” Kirkpatrick said. “Then after that, if we find that there is still a need to expand or build something separate, it is all good.”
At that point, it is much easier to seek funding for additional facilities because all existing facilities are being utilized at their maximum capacity, Kirkpatrick said.
“So let’s see about filling the current capacity and then come back and look at it again in a year or so,” she said.
Overton Senior Center officials generally welcomed the expanded use. Senior Center Director Chris Trombley acknowledged that the building was always meant to have a broader community function. In the early years after the building was completed, Senior Center staff had worked to schedule activities and events that would be of a broader appeal to the general community. They also invited the community to these events. But the programs were only lightly attended by the community.
“I am very happy to see the Senior Center being utilized for summer activities for the community’s kids,” Trombley said in an interview with the Progress. “It is a good opportunity while our senior population has declined because of the snowbirds leaving for the summer.”
Trombley expressed appreciation to Parks and Rec staff for their efforts in bringing more of the community into the building.
“John Stastny and his staff have been fantastic about coordinating this summertime activity schedule,” she said.
Stastny said he has been pleased with the coordination of the programs with the existing senior center schedule.
“I have been pleasantly surprised at how well it has been working at this point,” he said.
Stastny acknowledged that there were some adjustments that had been made in scheduling various activities. For example, last week a small group of seniors came to the center for their weekly pinochle game. Accustomed to playing in the large multi-purpose room, a space that had always been empty for them in the past, the group was faced with sharing the room with the group of teens playing ping pong. They found that the noise of the ping pong interfered with their card games, Stastny said..
“But it was not a major problem,” Stastny said. “We set up some tables and chairs so that the card players could go into the quilting room to play their game in a quieter environment. We have tried to work with any kind of issue like that, as it comes up, to turn them into a positive.”
Stastny said that plans are already underway to schedule the Senior Center facility for more programs into the fall. More open enrollment after school activities, similar to the current program for teens, are included in those plans. But also more formal and organized classes and programs, which require registration, will be offered, Stastny said.
Stastny admits that the expanded use of the building is going to come with some inevitable adjustments to existing schedules and a tighter, more economic, use of the building. But he is confident that it can be done while preserving the quality of all of the previous activities as well.
“Chris Trombley has been very accommodating in working with us,” Stastny said. “We will continue to work with her to coordinate times and schedules and determine what activities will work in that facility.”