As soon as this fall, the City of Boulder will reopen the East Age Well Center, a city-run facility that provided social and fitness programs for older adults until it was closed as a pandemic precaution in March 2020.
Eden Bailey, the manager for Boulder’s older adult services, which oversees the social and educational programs at the center, said she is working on a special budget request to the Boulder City Council later this year to pay for staff at the center.
“I can’t give you a specific date. But I can say that we’re committed to reopening this fall for sure,” Bailey said. “It’s a much-loved center and we’re looking forward to being able to get it reopened.”
The center, located at 5660 Sioux Dr. in South Boulder, hosted drop-in dance, table tennis and other fitness programs, including activities run by SilverSneakers, a company that prepares workouts for older adults. It also offered social and educational programs, such as scrabble, bridge and poker.
The city’s Parks and Recreation and Health and Human Services departments oversee the programs at the facility. Both departments underwent budget cuts during the pandemic and are yet to fully staff up to pre-pandemic levels.
During much of the pandemic, the location of the East Age Well Center was used as the city’s Covid-19 Recovery Center (CRC), a shelter for people experiencing homelessness. In September 2021, the city relocated the CRC to 3485 Stanford Court, the former location of the Rainbow Childcare Center, which was moved into the East Age Well Center. Rainbow Childcare will remain there until August 2022, according to city officials. Meanwhile, Boulder Housing Partners, the city’s housing authority, is planning to build 60 permanently affordable apartments for adults over the age of 55 at the Stanford Court location.
The closure of the East Age Well Center highlights the disproportionate toll of the pandemic on older adults, who have a higher likelihood of mortality from the disease, and therefore face a greater risk by socializing.
“That type of social isolation and loneliness can definitely have some mental health impacts. Also, people were not necessarily exercising as much,” Bailey said. “That’s the type of thing we want to make sure we focus on: the emotional supports, social supports and physical supports.”
The city’s West Age Well Center on 9th Street and Arapahoe Avenue was also mostly closed from the start of the pandemic, until August 2021. This was where many older adults applied for the city’s food tax rebate, and its closure prompted fewer older adults to seek the financial assistance intended to reduce food insecurity, according to city documents.
Bailey said the West Age Well Center is offering many of the programs it offered prior to the pandemic, such as cribbage, table tennis, and writing and poetry groups. She said it is planning to add volunteer-led bike rides and hikes as well.
The reopening of more older adult services comes as practically every adult over the age of 60 is vaccinated in Boulder County, according to the county health department. People over the age of 50 are now eligible for a fourth dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Fitness programs to-be-decided
The population of people over the age of 65 in Boulder County is expected to continue growing over the next decade, faster than every other age group, according to the state demographer.
The closure of the East Age Well Center came as the city acknowledged the need to prioritize services for the growing demographic of older Boulder residents, as described in the March 2021 draft implementation plan for the Parks and Recreation Master Plan. (The city offers older adults discounted passes to recreation centers and special promotions.)
But as the city plans to reopen the East Age Well Center, it remains unclear what fitness programs will come back immediately. Parks and Recreation is struggling to hire staff at many of its facilities. It needs 160 lifeguards and has just 65, officials said. It is currently hiring.
“That’s one of the big limitations,” said Ali Rhodes, the director for the Department of Parks and Recreation. “We have a third of the drop-in fitness classes that we’ve had in the past. Some of it is funding. Most of it is that we have a significantly smaller level of fitness instructors because they were all furloughed during the pandemic.”
Rhodes added, “We can’t just open the door and have everything. We have to build back the workforce.”