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Salem senior center considers cap on out-of-town members

SALEM — With attendance rates at an all-time high and the building already at full capacity, Salem’s Ingram Senior Center may have no choice but to cease accepting out-of-town members in 2014.

During Monday’s meeting of the Board of Selectmen, Senior Services Patti Drelick shared the most recent statistics on activity at the local senior center.

Drelick, who has worked for the town since 2001, said “the numbers, quite frankly, are going through the roof.”

As of July 1, the Ingram Senior Center had 2,564 registered members, though Drelick guessed that “at least 20 people have signed up since then.”

Currently, around 420 members are from towns outside of Salem, including Windham, Hampstead, Atkinson and Pelham, as well as Methuen and Lawrence, Mass.

Earlier this summer, selectmen voted to increase the out-of-town registration fee from $25 to $30. The increase became effective Aug. 1.

Salem residents aren’t charged membership fees and are still given first priority for programs with waiting lists.

So far, out-of-town members have been generally understanding about the fee increase, but the daily battle to find a parking space at the center remains, Drelick said.

“This facility is at full capacity most of the time, and staff growth hasn’t met our increases,” she told selectmen. “The challenge now is daily operations. We very frequently see people circling around the parking lot for a space and many of our programs have a long waiting list.”

The center has four employees, including Drelick, with roughly 180 volunteers crucial to daily operations and activities.

“We’re understaffed, and it’s getting more and more difficult to meet the members’ needs,” Drelick said.

Drelick said she plans to talk with the local Council on Aging about the possibility of capping the number of non-resident members at existing levels.“

It would certainly be a difficult decision, but it’s something we have to consider,” she said.

Senior center officials will return before the board sometime next month to discuss a plan of action for the coming calendar year.

Meanwhile, the center remains a popular spot for members ranging in age from the early 60s through the late 90s.

Over the past few years, Drelick said, nearly half of the new registrants were younger, more active seniors, which makes it all the more important to keep the programs going strong.

Members have more than 200 programs to choose from, including Zumba and Pilates exercise classes and Zengevity, a movement class for frailer seniors concerned about keeping their memory sharp.

More than three-quarters of the classes and programs are free of charge for registered members, though a handful of exercise classes have fees ranging from $1 to $3 per class.

“It’s not unusual at all for me to arrive to work in the morning and find 20 or 30 members sitting in the parking lot waiting for me to open the doors,” Drelick said.

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