After months of acrimony over the future of the Ashland Senior Center, town elders and city Parks & Recreation staff finally sat down together Tuesday, wrote ground rules and stated that “everything’s on the table — just not people” — meaning personalities, past actions and misunderstandings.

Much heated information has been posted on the internet and bandied about by word-of-mouth — some of it true, but much of it untrue or changed in past weeks — so Parks & Rec Director Michael Black was called on to say what's going on now.

Black said the Senior Center is not moving to The Grove. It is staying where it is, on Homes Avenue. Senior programs and classes will stay there also. Location of management of the city’s Senior Programs are not moving. Core services will be preserved.

Since employees of the Senior Center were laid off, Black says he is looking for a coordinator of social service to keep things running and classes happening.

“I’m the director and I’m not moving it, nor do I plan to in the future,” he told the first meeting of the much-awaited ad hoc Senior Program Advisory Committee, comprised of community members, Parks & Rec Commission members, a city councilor (Stefani Seffinger) and others in the field. ("Ad hoc" means it's not a standing committee that will not go on indefinitely, just until its intended purpose is realized.)

An inflammatory issue, “cost recovery” (making the Senior Center pay more of its way), which played a prominent role in earlier reports, “is not the top priority," Black said. "It’s expansion of senior services to seniors and the underserved. Cost recovery will be evaluated, if it can be increased without any burden to seniors.”

Black sketched out the history of Senior Programs since 2007, when they moved out from under the City Council to Parks & Rec, saying “it has not generated revenue since we got it. All other recreation programs do earn revenue. Revenue can be gained. We don’t want to lose it. But I was told by commissioners to knock it off (talking about cost recovery) and to focus on improving programs." 

The body will meet and strategize for three to five months, finally making recommendations to the Parks & Recreation Committee, which has the sole power to make whatever plans they see fit.

The meeting at the Grove had the nature of a kiss-and-make-up session of after a series of contentious earlier Parks & Rec Commission meetings, with everyone Tuesday agreeing to rules, the value of being able to talk to each other and stakeholders freely over the upcoming period, embracing a ban on ad hominem attacks (where people, not issues, are the target), and realizing they will produce “recommendations,” not decisions. Smiles and sighs of relief grew visibly during the meeting.

Members voted unanimously for Jackie Bachman as chairwoman of the panel and Marian Moore as vice chairwoman. There will be a facilitator to help the meetings move along. Prof. Jon Lange, SOU communications teacher, smoothly facilitated Tuesday’s meeting.

“There will be openness to it all, everything,” Black said. “just not personnel — and you won’t explore leaving things exactly as they were four months ago. That’s not going to happen. There’s got to be ways to enhance the senior program and move in a positive direction. The goal is to lead to a vision of the senior program.”

The committee suggested topics for future agendas, including a marketing plan, communication within the group, intergenerational development, training, expansion of the Senior Center, security and cleaning of the Senior Center and cost recovery. Black said prospective changes at the adjacent pool will in on way affect the footprint of the Senior Center.

The next meeting of the committee is set for 3:15 p.m. Monday, Nov. 13, at a place to be determined.

— John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.