As the Highlands Ranch Metro District gets closer and closer to building a senior center, some members of the community are still unclear on basic facts around the project, according to feedback received by the metro district.
In emails and phone calls received by the district, residents expressed concern about the need for such a center, its funding plan and how it could affect the rest of the community.
Below are details on the history, timeline, finances and hopes for the senior center.
The idea for a senior center in Highlands Ranch has been tossed around since the early 2000s, said Carrie Ward, the metro district director of parks, recreation and open space. The current effort began in 2017 when the metro district completed a “needs assessment” aimed at finding gaps in services provided to the community.
“The big takeaway from the needs assessment was that someone in the community needed to coordinate to provide services for seniors,” Ward said.
The metro district found that while many surrounding communities have specific spaces where older people can gather and socialize, Highlands Ranch did not have such a facility, she said.
“Isolation, especially for older folks, is really unhealthy for people,” she said. “Both physically and mentally.”
Sue Frommelt, vice president of the senior club, agrees about the importance of the center.
“There aren't any places other than Starbucks and McDonald's where seniors can go,” she said. “Just like teens want to get together with their age group, so do seniors.”
There are two elements to the senior center's funding: the construction cost and the ongoing operating costs. Neither will cause an increase in taxes and, because the project is run by the metro district rather than the Highlands Ranch Community Association, it will not affect assessment fees.
The construction cost for the senior center, estimated at $12 million, will be paid in full from the district's capital fund.
The operating costs will be paid for by the metro district general fund, which is replenished each year by existing property taxes, developer fees and other revenue streams.
Some of the operating costs would also be offset by the center's annual membership and program fees, Ward said.
The center will offer a variety of programs aimed at four main services: socialization, health and wellness, lifelong learning and information on social services such as housing, transportation and healthcare.
Proposed programs include cooking classes, game nights, Silver Sneakers Fitness Classes, walking clubs, technology classes, tennis leagues and wellness checks. It's also proposed to have resources, information and referrals for housing and transportation options, legal needs, veteran services and healthcare programs.
The plan is for the center not to overlap any of the services provided by the HRCA recreation centers, Frommelt said.
The next step for the project is a community survey that is being sent out to residents asking about the senior center. The results for this questionnaire, which will weight responses to ensure fairness, are expected by the end of January.
The board will likely wait until the results come in to vote on the location of the senior center. Ward and her staff presented three site options to the board: one on Highlands Ranch Parkway near Ridgeglen Way, another on the corner of Plaza Drive and Mill Vista Road and the last at Toepfer Park.
These sites were selected for their size and location, among other factors. The district found the site will need a minimum of 5 acres to operate, Ward said.
While some seniors shared frustrations for the need of the survey at a recent metro district meeting, Frommelt said she knows it needs to be done correctly.
“Would I like to have a senior center built by January? Yes, I would. But I know realistically it can't be done that way,” she said. “If it takes an extra year to get it done right then we will wait for it and be very excited when it does happen.”
Most negative feedback the district has received on the project falls into two categories: opposition to anything that is perceived to increase taxes and the thought that this isn't a priority for the community, Ward said.
One resident, Steve Taraborelli, has suggested that the district partner with HRCA and expand an existing recreation center. Ward's staff looked into this possibility but found that the sites wouldn't allow for expansion, she said.
To residents concerned around the importance of the center, Ward says the community has a need for this.
“Our senior population will continue to grow with the baby boomer population,” she said. “There is a need for a centralized place where seniors and their families can come and access information, programs and services.”
While the center will be open to everyone in the public, it will be aimed at providing services for the growing senior population.
In 2017, the population of Highlands Ranch was estimated to be about 101,000 with 21% designated as seniors, or people ages 55 or older, according to research completed by a metro district consultant. By 2050, this is projected to grow to over 38% of the population.
This demographic is growing in part because people who moved to Highlands Ranch years ago are getting older. Frommelt has also seen many seniors moving to the area because their children and grandchildren are here, she said.
“A senior center is going to be a playground for the older people of the community,” Frommelt said.
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