by ZACH KAYSER
Despite it falling out of the spotlight since it was unveiled this summer, the plan for a possible combination of the East Recreation Center (ERC) and the Friendship Center is still making people imagine what could be.
In August, consulting firm ISG presented plans for a combined center to the Winona City Council, which included two indoor gymnasiums as well as two outdoor half-court spaces for basketball. Renovations to the ERC building would also include an exercise room specifically for seniors, and several multipurpose rooms that could be shared. City officials have shifted from planning to fund the center with city tax dollars to trying to win state funding, casting doubt on the project’s future during a large state deficit. However, the project is planned to come up at future City Council meetings.
The concept of a space shared by seniors and by kids has prompted both skepticism and optimism. But the two groups have goals that are more similar than they may first appear.
Interviewed at the Rec Center as the Little Warriors drumline gloriously crashed and banged in the gymnasium behind them, Little Warriors organizers Tara Bailey and Makala Roberts were of the mind that the concept could work, but it could also stand some improvements.The drumline started as an effort to get rambunctious kids, some whom were from the same neighborhood as the East Rec Center, to participate in positive activities. Roberts and Bailey want the potential new center to continue that mission, providing a safe, inviting place for kids to have fun. To that end, the design — at least as presented to the City Council in August — had some shortcomings, they said.
For example, how would the center keep children from sneaking into the exercise center and causing mischief? The kids could also use a dedicated music room with soundproofing and perhaps space to store instruments, they said. The existing playground is paltry, they thought, so getting a bigger one would potentially help the kids as long as the outdoor features had security in mind.
The music room at the existing ERC is cramped and wildly impractical for a drumline, so they practice in the gym and try to avoid conflicting with other kids who want to play basketball or do other activities.
In a quieter follow-up interview Monday, Roberts said it is necessary to have equal consideration for both adults and children, but she also framed the situation as seniors coming in to share what had been space for just kids before.
“Let’s not forget about the people that started there, the kids,” she said.
On its face, the drumline might seem inherently incompatible with seniors. But as it turns out, the Little Warriors and the Friendship Center are already connected. Last year, despite the pandemic, the drumline helped put on a parade through Winona in conjunction with the center.
Bernadette Thicke, who sits on the activity council of the Friendship Center, said the music helped the seniors at the Friendship Center know that despite the pandemic isolation the community still holds them in their thoughts. The potential for seniors mentoring the kids is valuable, Thicke said, because some kids don’t have grandparents.
Bailey’s husband, Andre, who founded the Little Warriors, said the same thing in August.
“That’s what community is all about — everyone getting involved with the children,” he said.
Gloria Hammond, president of the activity council at the Friendship Center, was enthusiastic about the idea of seniors and children sharing space. She said it could work if the activities of the two age groups were coordinated with each other. “That’s the secret of the thing,” she said.
Like Bailey and Roberts, she wants a space for music — some of the seniors at the Friendship Center play ukelele there had been talk of doing it in an organized way, she said. But she wants to leave the space flexible for a range of activities.
Anew center could improve on the existing Friendship Center in terms of parking and dropoff accessibility, Thicke said. She suggested activities scheduled in a way so the seniors would have their turn with the building in the day, the kids in the evening. The two gyms also provided the option of having the seniors in one, the kids in the other. “I think we can all work together,” Thicke said. “We were all kids ourselves, we know what it’s like.”