Senior center moment: Council should pause, consider options

The Lexington Senior Citizens Center on Nicholasville Road in Lexington.
The Lexington Senior Citizens Center on Nicholasville Road in Lexington. Lexington Herald-Leader

"This is not a real hard math problem," Urban County Council member Julian Beard said last Tuesday. The baby boom generation is reaching retirement age and that means demands for services for seniors will grow rapidly during the next couple of decades.

The math: In the 2010 census, people 60 and older made up about 15 percent of Fayette County's population but that percentage will grow to up almost 19 percent by 2020 and to more than 20 percent by 2030.

Beard's comment came as the council revisited a proposal made several days earlier about partnering with the YMCA of Central Kentucky to provide more services for seniors.

That very preliminary proposal was presented by Y CEO David Martorano just as the council was preparing to authorize funds for a new, improved and larger senior center to replace the cramped facility on Nicholasville Road.

Unfortunately, the discussion has taken a turn away from the broad question of how Lexington will serve seniors in the next quarter century and into a sometimes heated debate about tangential issues.

Among them are: When did the administration of Mayor Jim Gray first hear this proposal, and why weren't the council and the commissioner who oversees senior services brought in sooner? Why change course now after two years of planning to replace the center?

Those are fair questions, but they shouldn't distract from the big picture.

On the face of it, forming a partnership with the Central Kentucky YMCA makes sense. Almost 6,000 older adults are involved in activities at the three locations compared to about 1,000 served by the senior center. Lexington's Y has been here for 160 years and has earned credibility and stability as a service organization.

Elsewhere, including Northern Kentucky, Y's are involved in similar partnerships, so there's a track record to explore. With multiple locations, the Y facilities are closer to more people.

But the devil is in the details, and it's possible that, once explored, those details might argue against a partnership with the YMCA.

What's critical is that the council calm down and think this through.

Sally Hamilton, the chief administrative officer in Gray's administration, will lay out the status of plans for a new senior center, including cost estimates, to the council today, just before the council takes its summer break.

During the break, members can think this over, crunch some numbers, do their own research and consider the city's long-term goals in this area.

Advocates for a new center are understandably frustrated by any delays. But even if a decision were made now, acquiring the land, developing plans and construction will take a couple of years.

Better to take a little more time now to be sure the city makes the best investment possible to serve the seniors who will call Lexington home during the next few decades.