The front parking lot of Lexington’s new senior center was full shortly before 11 a.m. Thursday.
Inside the spacious building in Idle Hour Park off Richmond Road, more than 150 seniors were attending classes; playing bingo, cards or billiards; or working out in the upstairs exercise room.
Paul Baumgartner came for a history class. He’s at the new center four times a week, often for the popular exercise classes. Baumgartner moved to Lexington three years ago from Pennsylvania.
“This is heads and shoulders above anything we had in Pennsylvania,” Baumgartner said. “I’ve met a lot of new friends here.”
The $13 million center opened Sept. 15 and in less than two months daily attendance and new memberships have skyrocketed.
“It’s been non-stop since we opened,” said Sean Wright, manager of the senior center. “We’ve had about 1,000 new memberships since we opened on Sept. 15.”
The EOP Architects-designed center replaces the cramped senior center off Nicholasville Road.
Additional space means more exercise, art and other classes. But there are still waiting lists for popular classes such as Zumba, said Kristy Stambaugh, director of aging and disability services for the city.
The average number of people at the center was 248 in the first 60 days the new center was open. In 2015, the average daily count was 157, Stambaugh said.
Memberships are also up. In September alone the center had 554 new memberships. In comparison, in September 2015, the center only had 33 new memberships.
Stambaugh told the Urban County Council during a Tuesday work session that the nine full-time employees and several part-time employees have been overwhelmed. Fortunately, the city was able to transfer a funded but not filled position from parks and recreation to the senior center. The city will also hire some temporary staff.
Other city employees have moonlighted at the senior center since September to augment the staff there, she said.
Stambaugh said she may have to ask for additional money in next year’s budget for more staff if the center’s popularity continues to grow. The center is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays. Members must be Fayette County residents 60 or older or be the spouse of someone 60 or older. Members must be physically independent. Stambaugh said the statistics show that younger, more active seniors are driving up the center’s numbers.
U.S. Census numbers show the center’s attendance numbers will likely climb in coming years. By 2030, Fayette County is expected to have nearly 100,000 senior residents.
Stambaugh said the center is not near its capacity. It can hold more than 900 people at any given time.
Still, Wright was busy Thursday.
As he stood at the bottom of the stairs in the lobby of the center, Wright chatted with seniors as he simultaneously dealt with several issues — a table used by card players to hold coats and other items had gone missing. The bingo game was breaking up at the same time people were trickling in for the noon meal. Thursday’s meal was hamburger, a favorite.
Wright, who has been managing the senior center for more than a decade, also stood ready to referee a potential tussle between two groups of card players. Euchre players were playing upstairs but Hand and Foot players would arrive soon. There weren’t enough card tables for both groups to play at the same time. The Euchre players may have to move to a conference room.
Wright said they expected the new building and new classes would drive up attendance but they thought interest would eventually wane.
They were wrong.
“We thought it would level off but new people keep coming in,” Wright said.
That may be thanks to the positive reviews.
Councilwoman Susan Lamb said her constituents have praised the new building and the new services offered.
“I hear about it all the time from my constituents,” Lamb said. “And it’s all positive.”