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With 1,200 members, but just 34 parking spaces, the Jonesborough Senior Center is feeling the squeeze

The Jonesborough Senior Center’s calendar is jam-packed with unique activities every month. Trouble is, so is the actual senior center.
“I’ve been here 14 years,” said Joan Miller, director of the facility. “And I think the first day I walked in, we talked about needing a new center.”
The Senior Center, which operates out of a former RV sales office, has been at its Persimmon Ridge Road location since 1988.
Between 50-60 seniors visit the center every day, Monday through Friday. Some leave after they exercise or take a class, but others stay all day.
In some cases, the senior may have fallen or passed out and is now afraid to stay home alone.
“Others just thrive on being here,” Miller said.
There is no charge for membership, and the Senior Center currently has 1,200 members on its roster. All of the members can’t come at the same time, though, because there are only 34 parking spaces. A tent and shuttle service were needed to handle the crowd who attended last year’s Fall Festival.
Jonesborough Alderman Mary Gearhart said a new senior center is her biggest wish and her latest mission.
Gearhart said new construction and a different site are necessary in order to serve the senior population.
“We need twice as much space, and four or five times as much parking,” she said. “Hopefully, with this administration and a new county mayor, we will get it through.”
Gearhart added that the town is trying to get its priorities in line.
“The extension of the sewer line has to be the number-one priority right now,” she said. “But we’re going to do everything we can (for the senior center).”
In addition to its size, the age and safety of the current building must be considered, Miller said.
Miller recently began working with Maj. Phil Fritts from the Jonesborough Fire Department to develop an emergency preparedness plan as proposed by LaVerdia McCullough of the Tennessee Commission on Aging and Disability who met with area senior center directors late last year to present a program on this very topic.
“In this class, I realized how vulnerable we are in this location as far as responding to an emergency,” Miller said.
The condition of the center’s wiring also may be in question. During the Fall Festival, Miller had to reset a breaker approximately 14 times before she finally unplugged the cooler.
Miller said both the town and county’s mayors are working together, and she hopes a new building will be constructed within the next two years.
“There is nothing around here that would accommodate what we’ve got,” Miller said, referring to the need for a new building.
Jonesborough Mayor Kelly Wolfe said a new senior center is already being talked about with Washington County as a joint project since a lot of people who attend are from the county.
“A lot” is actually 85 percent of the Senior Center’s membership, according to Miller.
“We have had conversations,” said Washington County Mayor Dan Eldridge. “And we both acknowledge the need.”
Eldridge said he and Wolfe have visited the Senior Center separately.
“Obviously, they’re out of room and out of parking,” he said. “But as far as a plan, one is not in place.”
The Senior Center receives federal and state funding, in addition to support from the Town of Jonesborough and Washington County. A number of creative business partnerships also have been developed to benefit members.
One business offers bingo prizes, while another provides a monthly lunch at no charge. Students from David Crockett High School were recently on site for a regular “Cut, Curls and Nails” session.
“The students love our seniors,” Miller said.
In addition to serving as a self-esteem boost, the hair cuts, styling and manicures provided by the students are luxuries many seniors can’t afford.
A free eight-week class on using the Internet began last year, quilters come in twice a week, and the members always have one or two jigsaw puzzles going.
The Senior Center pays for the NET Trans service that brings many members to the center and takes them back home.
“We have a lot of ladies who have never driven, and other members who should no longer drive,” Miller said.
Many seniors don’t have family nearby, and they are always glad to return after the weekend or a holiday, Miller said.
A larger space would allow education classes and craft workshops to be offered simultaneously, Miller said. Currently, there is only one room available, which does not allow for overlap.